Structuring our liberation (LS under the lens): Heard, Seen, Respected

(It’s been now seven years that I’ve been actively and centrally using Liberating Structures (LS), following three to four years of beating around that bush and borrowing from the LS repertoire haphazardly. Now it is firmly in my practice, and I’ve decided to start another blogging series (Structuring our liberation – LS under the lens), looking at some of the not-so-common structures from the LS repertoire).

Heard Seen Respected

Today is a bit of an exception in this series, because Heard Seen Respected is not among the most obscure structures, but it may not get the visibility that it deserves because it’s one of the most emotional structures in the LS repertoire. Perhaps because of that, it’s also one of my favourite structures.

What is the purpose of Heard Seen Respected?

It happens to everyone to, every once in a while, feel either not heard, seen and/or respected. It’s so commonplace it’s actually mind-boggling. It also shows there’s a long way before we share more of what is going on in our life.

Heard Seen Respected (aka ‘HSR’) is there to:

  • Help people share these moments with one another and thereby a) just acknowledge what happened b) lighten their heart (“a problem shared is a problem halved”), c) process their grief
  • By doing that, focus on what is brewing inside of us before getting on with fixing, solving, acting. That is a crucial prerequisite
  • Understand what were, and what could be generic, factors that made these unfortunate moments happen
  • Realise how common place such experiences are
  • Analyse how we can avoid these situations in the future, for ourselves and others in similar situations
  • Potentially find solutions and even a catharsis for these moments
  • Invite emotions in our reflections, mobilise the ‘memory of our body’ in that process
  • Stimulate our deep listening to each other, and our empathy
  • Develop, stimulate, enable a culture of emotional feedback as a whole
  • Ritualise and normalise moments of acknowledging, sharing and processing these feelings
  • The LS website also indicates ‘help managers discern when listening is more effective than trying to solve a problem’

How does it work?

There are variations of it – one version is offered below, from the LS website – but essentially they all involve a pair and the following steps:

  • A short time telling a story of when you were NOT heard, seen or respected (about 5 to 7 minutes for each person)
    • When listening, practicing quiet presence (listening, not responding, possibly asking non-directive open-ended questions to draw the storyteller out)
    • When talking, selecting a story that is not the hardest and focusing on the facts, not on blaming the situation or other people
  • An optional, but very useful 5-minute step, of revealing what it felt like to recount that story, and to listen to it…
  • An even shorter time (3-4 minutes, or larger in a larger group as below) debriefing what happened and ideas we have to prevent more of these stories from happening…

The steps are summarised below

So this structure is incredibly easy to set up…

Read more about this structure on the Liberating Structures website.

Who could really benefit from it?

This is the thing: pretty much ANYBODY can benefit from it. Regardless of age, sex, ethnic group, geography, function. Whether at work or in (personal) life. Obviously, the more privileged the less it may be necessary but even white-haired white men can benefit from a moment of disclosure on the pains of their past.

We ALL feel invalidated, and almost rejected at times. Yet rejection is one of the deepest fears we have as human beings. HSR is helping everyone unpack that experience.

Beyond this universal value, in places of conflict or tensions between ‘groups’, Heard Seen Respected adds even more value by giving texture to the lived experience of each other. But even in places where seemingly no conflict arises, there are always mental frontiers and places of rejection. In a former organisation I worked for, the same HSR session helped two colleagues deeply apologise to each other, and revealed in stark contrast, and tears, the experience of one person from a different origin than the majority. HSR is deep, much like the whole Liberating Structures repertoire…

HSR, one of the most deeply liberating LS structures? (Image credit: Michael Nir)

What is liberating about it?

Like many LS, Heard Seen Respected is brought about by a very simple means: a couple of stories that are exchanged by two people. And indeed that simple step helps us trespass into another deeper, meaningful, heavy and yet hopeful dimension: the land of invisible scars.

HSR is liberating because:

  • Our pains become fears, and naming our fears diminishes their power – following the same logic as with ‘Tiny Demons’, another LS which I will explore here at a later stage…
  • Re-living that experience is helping us not flee from the pain but inhabit it, live it, feel and sense it again, without the emotional charge of being in it. It helps us activate our brain to analyse it also, and it may bring about different emotions again…
  • The forced ‘listening’ which is present in many LS is helping us get present, focused, attentive, intentional, supportive, empathetic. In the fast-paced world of social media antechambers we need to regain that attention, that slow pace and space that is the soil for trust, bonding, collaboration
  • The empathy that it develops is particularly crucial here;
  • It brings us to reflect together, co-solving the conditions that lead us to these moments of not respecting each other;
  • As the last reason exposed above, it helps us understand once again more deeply that fixing problems is sometimes not the way to go. That instead we have to acknowledge the pain, the suffering, the situation of somebody else before we can have a rational conversation together. And that that acknowledgement is probably overdue in many cases, because we tend to jump the guns and race to action and business, when our bodies, minds and souls are sometimes not even capable of getting in motion…
  • And last but not least, the shared experience of zooming in through our suffering history brings us closer together, it heals, melds and reveals relationships, and that is also the key to future liberation…

How to stretch the structure further?

There are various strings that can naturally incorporate Heard Seen Respected:

The applications are nearly infinite with HSR, but here are a few just thinking out loud here and now:

For managers and subordinates that want to hear from each other how they are not being helpful to each other.

For groups that have gone through a crisis or a major challenging moment, a big reform, a collective trauma, a pandemic etc.

For teams that want to improve the quality of their communication (the ‘tuning’ part of STAR).

For multi-stakeholder collaboratives that need to build stronger empathy and understanding of the different (groups of) people involved.

As part of a retrospective, after-action-review, assessment or evaluation.

For anyone keen on improving their empathy, social intelligence, communication…

The website also offers this daring variation: To bravely replace ‘HSR’ with ‘Loved’ 😉

At any rate, give it a try, and see for yourself 😉

This may be a unique Liberating Structure, and it’s nuclear power in bubble of speech…

Want to find out about HSR and Liberating Structures at large? Come join our immersion workshop in November!

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