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Sharing Your Experience

A Satisfying Approach to Being Heard and Understood
Michael Porcelli
February 21, 2023

We like to be heard and understood. Though essential for everyday communication, it doesn’t always happen, which can feel anywhere from mildly irritating to infuriating. If you’re frequently unheard and misunderstood, this can accumulate, leading to feelings of disconnection. You might feel confused in your attempts to grasp how and why you’re not being heard or understood to your satisfaction. Though I don’t think you can always be heard and understood when you want, you can learn to communicate in a way that makes this much more likely.

Consider a time when you were misunderstood, like when some communication did not arrive intact to your intended recipient for some reason. Perhaps you sped through your words for the sake of efficiency without confirming that your message was received. Or perhaps you were trying to get something important across, but you were too concerned about the response from your listener and your main point was diluted by extraneous caveats and clarifications.

Sometimes I’ll share only to have the other person respond by sharing something which had only a tenuous connection to what I just shared, at best. This isn’t necessarily a problem. Lively discussions where folks take turns sharing their own thing one after another can be enjoyable but aren’t necessarily satisfying when I really want to be heard and understood.

There are many aspects of our experience we might want to share with someone, but sometimes what we want to share is specifically about the very person we want to share it with. This makes the conversation a relational one. Though these conversations can sometimes be challenging, they’re vital for healthy relationships.

When you’ve been heard and understood, your listener has tasted your experience and come to know you a little better. You’ll not only have transferred information, but you’ll also have experienced connection. This is the difference between sharing your experience, rather than merely revealing or expressing it.

When you feel unsatisfied, it can be tempting to blame your listener for a deficiency in their listening skills. Yet this is just as likely due to your listener simply following a conventional conversational script that misses the mark. The way your listener responds is usually what makes the difference. Likely, you’re looking for one or more of four responses:

1. You want your listener to explicitly confirm their understanding, saying something like,

“What I heard you say was [x] … is that accurate?”

2. You want your listener to clarify their understanding, saying something like,

“I’d like to clarify something to be sure I understand you…”

3. You want your listener to share the impact of what you’ve said, saying something like,

“Hearing what you shared, I felt…”

4. You want your listener to share a perspective on what you shared, saying something like,

“Something I think about what you said…”

Requesting the response you’re looking for is one step in a three-step process I recommend for sharing your experience: (1) reveal your experience (2) request a response, and (3) receive the response. Read on for my explanation of these steps and how to facilitate a conversation through them. Before getting into the three steps, you’ll need to do at least a little something to get this conversation started on the right footing.

Create Context

The ability to effectively create context with others is foundational to setting up any conversation. To explicitly invite someone to listen and understand you, I recommend some indication that this is what you have in mind. This is often short and simple, for example -

“Hey. There’s something I’d like to share and I’d love for you to lend a listening ear. Are you available?”


“I’ve got something on my mind I want to express, and I need someone who will just hear me out. Could you take a few minutes to do that for me?”

Sometimes I include an indication of the response I’m looking for when I’m creating the context for this conversation, instead of waiting until step #2 — request a response, for example:

“Hey. There’s something I’d like to share and I’d love for you to lend a listening ear and get your perspective on what I share. Are you available?”

(you want your listener to share a perspective on what you shared)


“There’s something I really need to express and I’m looking for someone who can listen to me and let me know what the impact is of what I’ve got to say. Would you do that for me?”

(you want your listener to share the impact of what you’ve said)

If you don’t know at this initial moment of the conversation what kind of response you’re looking for, you can request it later. You might only develop a sense of what this response is after you’ve done step #1, reveal your experience.

Now check for some indication of consent, saying something like “…you available?” or “Would you do that for me?” Look for a quick, informal, response like a nod, or a few words like “yes” or “sure thing.” Proceed onward to reveal your experience once you’ve got a clear enough indication of consent.

Creating context doesn’t always happen as simply as in the example above. Perhaps the other person needs further clarification, or maybe it’s not a good time or place for them. Creating the context for a conversation is crucial and has many intricacies which I go into in The Power of Context , which I recommend you read for a deeper dive.

Step #1 — Reveal your Experience

Once you’ve created the context for this conversation, move directly into describing the experience you want to share. Go straight to the heart of the matter without the kind of build-up, superfluous details, or unnecessary explanations that are likely to dilute your message. You can move quickly and confidently precisely because you’ve done the work of creating context.

The experience you’re sharing could be about a specific moment or event, or perhaps a narrative over time. You may want to include details like observations regarding objective phenomena, as well as subjective phenomena like thoughts, ideas, beliefs, intentions, imaginations, perspectives, emotions, and bodily sensations

While these are the basic kinds of details you might want to share, how you share these details is an important part of how you communicate them. Your relational capacities are the skills and ways of being that will improve your communication. The key capacities which improve your ability to reveal your experience are owning your experience, congruence, and revealing. These capacities make it more likely you will be heard and understood which is the purpose of this process. Correspondingly, putting this process to regular use will help you develop these capacities. This reciprocal relationship is a virtuous cycle connecting relational processes with capacities.

Step #2 — Request a Response

So, you’ve invited someone into a conversation because you want to share your experience, they’ve consented to listen, and you’ve started the conversation by revealing some things. Being heard and understood the way you would like often depends on how your listener responds, and in this step, you can make it easier for them to give you the response you’re looking for by making an explicit request.

Frequently, a listener’s response is unsatisfying, though you may presume that they heard with their ears and understood with their mind. Without any response, your words are like a piece of writing, parsed by a reader without any indication the intended communication was received. Unlike writing, a conversation is an exchange, and the response is information flowing back to you as the one who got this conversation started. Now it’s time to request the kind of response that would help you satisfy your desire to be heard and understood. Here are four ways to ask for the responses you want:

1 “Would you let me know what you’re hearing me say?”

(a request to confirm understanding)

2 “Would you let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to clarify?”

(a request to clarify understanding)

3 “Would you share with me any impact something I said had on you?”

(a request to share impact)

4 “Would you let me know your perspective about what I shared?”

(a request to offer perspective)

At this point, perhaps you’re thinking this risks creating a degree of artifice, and possibly awkwardness, to a conversation. This is a reasonable concern because it will likely happen some of the time as you start trying this out. This will tend to smooth out with practice.

A way I’ve come to relative peace with asking for the response I want is by considering our roles reversed. When I do, I’m reminded of occasions when someone shared with me and I felt uncertain about how they’d like me to respond. This sometimes happens even when I’m feeling receptive to what they’re saying and goodwill toward them. When I know the kind of response they’d like, it reduces my guesswork and I’ll more often fulfill my positive intention as a listener in a way that is satisfying.

For any given situation, whatever degree of easy satisfaction you hope to gain while avoiding potential artifice, there’s always some chance you might be off in ways that could leave you unsatisfied. For example, you may be wishing a new acquaintance will respond in just the way you were hoping without you having to ask for it. Whether this happens, or it doesn’t, this could just as likely be an indicator of relational compatibility as one of luck. As another example, you might feel safe in expecting a long-term friend to give you just the right kind of listening and understanding you’re looking for, yet they miss a subtle cue or offer a tried-and-true response that falls short.

Perhaps you still have some objection to requesting the response you’d like. This might sound something like, “if I make the request explicitly, then the response isn’t genuine,” “it makes people more likely to fake the response, then I can’t trust it” “if someone really gets me they will figure out what I need on their own,” “it’s more meaningful when I don’t have to ask for it.” Folks will often run into some version of this common objection to the entire idea that one can have a more intentional approach to communicating and relating. I call this the naturalistic fallacy of relating which I have a few things to say about which are beyond the scope of this article.

Step #3 — Receive the Response

Now is the moment to receive the response. Once you’ve created the context, revealed what you intended to share, and made an explicit request for the response you’d like, then simply listen. Your capacity to be an attentive, receptive, and respectful listener will come in handy. Rest your attention on the words they’re saying and how they’re saying them. Drop any impulse to think about what you’re going to say next or what you think about what they’re saying. As they complete their response, pay attention to if you feel satisfied with how you’ve been heard and understood.

Sometimes, completing this cycle — reveal your experience, request a response, receive the response — will get you exactly the hearing and understanding you were looking for on the first try.

At other times, however, the response you receive will not result in the understanding you set out to achieve. This happens usually when you request to clarify or confirm understanding. For example, you ask,

“Would you let me know what you’re hearing me say, or if there’s anything you’d like me to clarify?”

Then your listener gives you a response that indicates pretty clearly that they did not understand what you intended to convey. When this happens, it’s another opportunity to communicate better such that you are weaving shared reality. You might want to return to Step #1 and say it again but in a different way. Before you do, say something like,

“I think I may not have communicated clearly. Let me try again to see if I can say it in a better way.”

Sometimes you won’t be clear that you fully understand their response, in which case I recommend you share back to them what you’ve heard and ask them any further clarifying questions, for example,

“Sounds like you heard me say [x], is that right?”


“I heard you say [x] but I don’t think I get what you meant by that. Can you clarify?”

Once you get a little more clarity on their response, you’ll have a better sense of what, if anything, you did convey successfully, and also where there was a misunderstanding. Then you can get back to Step #1 again, saying something like,

“OK, I think I get how we went off. I’m gonna try again, and hopefully, this will clarify things.”

If you’re following closely, you may have noticed that this little back and forth constitutes a moment of ensuring you have heard and understood their response. This is because communication is complex, and in practice doesn’t happen in a neat linear protocol which, if it did, I could sell this approach as a surefire way to be heard and understood every single time with these three easy steps, executed in this exact order, once through.

Instead, conversations typically unfold in a series of nesting frames, like the ones I articulated above. I encourage you to be flexible in this interplay of speaking, listening, and clarifying your understanding so long as you and your conversational partners seem to be converging toward greater shared reality.

It’s crucial to remember the purpose you had in initiating this conversation: sharing your experience such that you satisfy your desire to be heard and understood in the way you’d like. No matter how many frames you go into along the way, you can always attempt to unwind back to that original purpose, locate where you are in the process, and check to see if indeed, you feel satisfied.

Sometimes unwinding back to this initial context can get a bit tricky when your “listener” isn’t so much listening as they are now sharing with you something about their experience and you’re on the receiving end of much more than you wanted, yet you’re not quite being heard and understood the way you originally wished. This tends to happen in a few ways.

One way is when you’ve requested they offer their perspective as the response, saying something like, “Would you let me know your perspective about what I shared?” and your “listener” simply started talking about their perspective and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. If you feel satisfied with the perspective they offered and are starting to lose interest as they continue speaking, then my recommendation is to interject at the next opportune moment saying something like,

“Okay. I think I’m understanding what you’ve got to say about what I shared. Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your listening to me and sharing them.”

Perhaps this brief interjection will create a space for the conversation to flow a different direction when they’re reminded of the context you created at the outset. Or they might simply resume talking about what they were thinking in which case consider creating a new context with them so you’re more into the conversation.

There are many ways conversations can diverge from the initial context. Some are like the example above, needing only a small nudge to get back on track. I discuss the basics of both holding and debugging context in The Power of Context .

Sometimes, conversations get more challenging, as it does in cases when someone seems to be overriding your original intention with their own agenda or when emotional triggers flare up for one or more participants. This happens more often in relational conversations of all kinds, not only when sharing your experience. Working with these moments requires some discernment as you weigh the trade-offs between holding to the original context versus transitioning away and returning later. A full discussion of how to navigate these challenges is beyond the scope of this discussion, so just be aware that this can happen and there are ways to work with it.

Context Redux

So, you wanted to be heard and understood. Did that happen?

If so, then this process is complete, and this part of your conversation is done. You might say,

“Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to me share.”

Even if you’ve come a long way, you may only be partially satisfied. If there’s more you like to share, you can simply dive back into Step #1, or say something like,

“You’re getting me so far, and there’s something more I’d like to share.”

Or perhaps you recognize you’d also like an additional response, so you might return to Step #2 saying something like,

“You totally understood me accurately. Would you also be willing to share with me any impact something I said had on you?”

If you’re going to loop back to a previous step, be on the lookout for indicators of consent, like a nod, or a verbal indicator like “yes” or “sure.” You might also notice some indication that your listener is reaching some limit, which might mean they’re not actually willing to continue at this time. They might indicate this with body language, like turning partially away, leaning out, or scanning elsewhere with their eyes. It could be something they simply say explicitly.

If your desire to be heard and understood is not quite satisfied, you may need to pause until some later time. Perhaps the conversation gets cut short due to external circumstances. Or it could be that your listener doesn’t wish to continue for one reason or another. This may leave you incomplete in being heard and understood. In these case, you could say something like,

“You want to pick this conversation up again later? I feel grateful for how you’re getting me so far, and there’s some more I’d like to get into when you’re available. How about it?

It’s quite possible at this point you have satisfied your wish to be heard and understood and you feel happy to continue conversing. Feel free to create another context, perhaps choosing another protocol, or to just go with the flow of the conversation. Just because you’ve completed this process doesn’t mean the conversation has to end!

The right tool for the job

The three-step process I shared is for when you want to share your experience so as to be heard and understood to your satisfaction. But sometimes, even mid-conversation, you’ll discover you want something different, or perhaps something in addition. Instead of bending this protocol for a different purpose, it’s important to use the right tool for the job.

For example, sometimes I get a conversation going thinking I want to be heard and understood only to realize along the way, I was actually more curious about the other person’s experience or perspective. If so, a more appropriate protocol is getting someone’s experience. At other times, I realize I want something more than to be heard and understood. What I want is for the other person to do something. If so, a more appropriate protocol is making a request.