There’s nothing worse than knowing the person you’re talking to isn’t listening or ignoring you.
- They’re distracted and paying attention to something else, like their smartphone.
- They’ve got half an ear open, but they’re looking over their shoulder at what’s happening behind you.
- They don’t want to listen to you at all. The person you’re trying to speak to is walking away, pretending not to hear what you’re saying.
Does that ever happen to you?
We want others to listen because we seek to be heard and understood.
When others aren’t listening, you’re left feeling unworthy of attention, and it hurts.
Worse still, studies have shown that the pain of being ignored is worse than being bullied.
You are experiencing social pain, which you feel when you’re being ignored, overlooked or rejected. The problem being social pain is very real because it shares common neural pathways to physical pain. But because it is invisible, it’s easy not to see how it is impacting someone or to dismiss the severity of the pain caused. Pain is unique to the individual.
How I feel about being missed off an email invite to an important meeting I was expecting to be at will be different from the intensity and depth of feeling you might experience in the same situation.
The risk of ignoring social pain
It happens in an instant. You see the rolling of the eyes or the raised eyebrows of cynicism. Whether deliberate or unintentional, that unkind remark or feeling of being excluded over even a 2-3 minute period can result in lingering negative feelings.
The biggest risk is that if you continue to feel snubbed or left on the outer ring of the social network you’re trying to be part of, your pain is left unresolved. When hurt, it’s not uncommon to retreat to our cave and lick our wounds, we go quiet and gradually withdraw from making any further attempt to be seen or heard.
It damages relationships because you no longer trust the person who has hurt you. Without trust, there is a loss of social connection. You start to feel isolated, and that makes you feel bad and sad.
Your brain is a social organ. We crave connection because it provides safety which is why we form tribes – of family, friends and work colleagues. Safety is your brain’s primary organising principle. When you feel safe, you know it’s OK to relax. You feel in a more positive mood; you’re happier, you’re more collaborative and empathetic to others. It keeps stress levels down, so you’re more open-minded, curious to explore new things, more willing to take a punt because you’re less afraid of failing. You get more done.
Without that security blanket of safety, you’re out in the cold operating in survival mode, seeking to escape or find another group where you do get a sense of belonging.
How social pain changes behaviour
You become less willing to cooperate, respond to emails or show up to or contribute in meetings. You become less visible and audible.
You become more combative when challenged. A discussion becomes a bloody battlefield of conflict. Because you’re on the offensive or being defensive, there’s no room for negotiation you’re operating on highly charged negative emotions. If no-one is listening Plan B becomes getting noticed by whatever method works.
Your sleep pattern becomes more fragmented and disturbed. Your mood is low, and you may start to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. You become more susceptible to illness as your immune system takes a hit, and if stress has become your middle name, you’re at increased risk of developing a stress-related illness.
It feels harder to stick to those positive self-care strategies you usually use to stay healthy. You’re less motivated to get to the gym, eat healthily or do those things with friends you normally enjoy, further compounding your sense of hurt and isolation.
Eventually, social pain can result in resignation. You give up trying and get lost in helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.
The way to greater inclusion
- Make it everyone’s responsibility to look to ensure everyone is being included. In meetings, this is about ensuring everyone has a voice, takes turns, and to encourage the quieter personalities and introverts to speak up early and often!
- Make inclusivity a core competency that is valued just as much as expertise.
- Keep your smoking guns at the door. This is about social etiquette and respect. Keeping mobile phones switched to silent or off – and out of sight, to give the person who is speaking your full and undivided attention. The mere presence of a smartphone on a table diminishes the level of connection in a conversation.
- Provide a safe space for opinions to be voiced and questions to be asked without fear of judgment, ridicule or humiliation.
- Praise in public, criticise in private. ALWAYS!
- Listen before speaking and clarify what you think you’ve heard by repeating the key points.
- Check the vibe. What’s the ambience on entering the building or an office. Are people smiling, interacting, what’s the banter? Adding in a warm smile and friendly hello goes a very long way to show “I’ve noticed you and am happy you are here.”
Ignorance is no excuse to ignore the social needs of others. Driving greater inclusivity is one of the fundamental keys towards becoming a happy, thriving human.