Organizational stakeholders today are inundated with consultants, workshops, and materials promising quick cures for ailing cultures. I’ve encountered several of these “cures” in the form of books, mottos, and models.
- Radical candor, conversation, listening, focus, love, even radical dharma.
- Embodied listening, leadership, cognition.
- Authentic leadership, communication, listening.
- Crucial conversations, difficult conversations, candid conversations, authentic conversations, compassionate conversations.
- Revolutionary love. Resilience culture.
Many of these offerings can support a culture once we develop a foundational container for being human. The organizing principle of an organization begins with beings as “legitimate beings.” Here, our fundamental capacity requires accessing our humanity – to grant being – and then granting being to another.
Without our ability to “grant being,” other “solutions” become tricks in managing symptoms. We never tap into the deep concerns driving the humans we profess to care about. We never reach the level of authentic connection critical to developing trust and communication to access our dignity.
The Question of “Granting Being”
The term “granting being” can be understood from different contexts.
1- Existential Philosophy
In existential philosophy, for philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, “granting being” relates to our individual generative capacity to bestow meaning or confer “being” upon ourselves and our world. We view human existence as not predetermined or fixed but as a continuous process of creating meaning and identity.
In this context, “granting being” views individuals as responsible for defining their own existence and meaning-making through their choices, actions, and authentic engagement with the world, aligning with the existentialist concept of “existence precedes essence.”
2- Spiritual or Ethical Contexts
In spiritual or ethical contexts, “granting being” is the act of recognizing and acknowledging the dignity of all living beings as legitimate beings. It suggests that, at our best, individuals can extend an openness to respect others, affirming their existence and dignity.
“Granting being” acknowledges the shared humanity and inherent worth of every individual. It reflects a commitment to upholding human dignity.
3- Ontological Philosophy
In ontology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being and existence, “granting being,” could refer to discerning the fundamental nature of reality and what it means for something to “be.”
Here, “granting being” might involve an inquiry into the ontological status of entities. To grant something existence is to recognize—or highlight from a general background—the conditions of that which exists, whether it be a quality, concept, or another structure.
While evoking a connection, granting being is more than a touching sentiment. This human structure connects with a dimension of being to create meaning for ourselves and our world.
The Practice of “Granting Being”
Generally, “granting being” suggests a process of assigning meaning, value, or existence to oneself, others, or the world. It often carries implications for human agency, responsibility, and ethical considerations.
Recall the worn phrase that children should be seen, not heard. This notion diminishes a child’s sensibilities. Children and human beings need to be seen, heard and acknowledged. While evoking a connection, granting being is more than a touching sentiment. This human structure connects with a dimension of being to create meaning for ourselves and our world.
“Being seen,” “being heard,” and “being acknowledged” are related but distinct concepts that highlight different structures of granting being in human interactions.
“Being seen” refers to the experience of being recognized and understood for who we truly are, including our thoughts, feelings, and inner self. It’s about feeling that someone perceives our essence, authenticity, and uniqueness.
Being seen involves people respecting and seeing our “way of being in the world.”
The primary capacity of “being seen” involves awareness and understanding as love –expressed through looking deeply.
When we feel seen, it often generates a deep sense of acceptance, validation, and connection. It signifies that someone is paying genuine attention to our inner world and values our presence.
Power of Observation
The skills most useful here include developing interest, self-awareness, bearing witness, and understanding deeply. It all begins with a genuine interest in others. Genuine interest notes what moves others and the details and distinctiveness that others bring to life.
On a surface level, we relate to others as more than a part of the system, more than any demographic, identity, title, or role. We see the person.
On a deeper level, we look deeply. With deeper awareness, we see who and what one is and what they contribute.
Consider a person who approaches projects from an artistic mindset. They offer creative ideas, questions, and solutions. Their boss may only see her as a competent taskmaster, never bearing witness to their creativity.
This invisibility can be soul-crushing and undercut one’s value, self-worth, and wholeness. What is missing is an interest that cultivates and results from deeper understanding.
Looking Deeply: The “Understanding” in Love
Deep understanding is akin to love. At the heart of Zen master Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name”  :
We must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the person we love.” This is the ground of real love. You cannot resist loving another person when you really understand him or her.
A greater understanding connects us deeply to others. The ability to see deepens the understanding that grows love.
Studies show that being seen is necessary for feeling like we matter. It promotes mental and emotional well-being. Social psychologists Morris Rosenburg and Claire McCullough wrote that feeling noticed is “the most elementary form of mattering.”
In teenagers, an absence of mattering is highly destructive. A landmark study of 2,000 adolescents in 2009 found that as teens’ feeling of mattering in their family decreased, antisocial, aggressive, or self-destructive behaviors rose.
In the classic novel “The Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison compared feeling unnoticed to living in a hole, writing, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
To those we see daily, can we see beyond any concept, beyond any identity, to recognize their courage, compassion, kindness, angst, or despair? Have you checked in with them about how they’re doing?
“Being heard” involves people receiving our world and lived experience. This implies that our voice, concerns, and needs are honored and “gotten” by others.
The primary capacity of “being heard” involves awareness, spaciousness, and connection.
When we feel heard, we sense that another has recreated our concerns. Whatever we need to say can be heard by another without anyone adding or subtracting anything. Our full self-expression supports making sense of our world.
Deep listening emerges from a commitment that opens us to what is happening in the moment with non-reactive awareness, without trying to control or judge it.
On the surface, our thoughts and feelings are not only audible but also considered, valued, and validated.
On a deeper level, being heard can lead to a release that can feel empowering, validating, and important. This involves sharing deeper concerns and truths.
We all arrive in conversations as vessels full of interests, needs, aspirations, and concerns. When someone has any space in their vessel – that space unlocks their capacity to receive our concerns, to freely listen to us.
This empty listening invites us to speak about our deepest concerns. Oddly, speaking into an empty vessel offers a release. We’ve been recreated.
Being With and Being Gotten
Recreating another person’s communication results from a spacious listening that can receive the “truth” of our concerns. Whether about family, money, loneliness, grief, or being overwhelmed, empty listening from freedom disappears concerns. We feel heard, gotten, and connected.
The commitment to deep listening responds to the call that “all we want is to be heard, to be gotten by others.”
By listening deeply, we can be with another person in a way that creates the experience that their communication has been fully gotten. It acknowledges that another person’s point of view is as valid as your own.
Said another way, you will have created a space where the speaker can sort themselves out and freely create themselves in language. To manifest their being in language.
This way of being with another person is not a technique, formula, or skill. It does not exist in anything you know, say, or do but fully in your listening and who you are being.
It begins with a genuine interest and commitment to connect with another, to get their world, and to receive their communication. We deepen this commitment by being willing to discover all the different ways we “habitually” resist while listening. The absence of being heard finds us isolated, diminished, and even broken. Martin Luther King’s cry that “riots are the language of the unheard” reminds us of how painful and destructive it is when our concerns are met with indifference.
When we can be with another person without resistance, judgment, or needing to fix anything, it allows them to share the truth about their deepest concerns, goals, aspirations, and needs. In this state, we connect with their world of concerns and possibilities; they feel gotten.
Acknowledgment is the act of noticing, recognizing, witnessing, and appreciating.
The primary capacity of “being acknowledged” involves attention, connection, and recognition. It encompasses a broader sense of perceiving (being seen) and hearing (being heard) by recognizing their actions, accomplishments, contributions, or, in some cases, possibilities or potential.
To practice acknowledgment requires our attention. Attention is like sunshine to a plant. What we focus on expands.
A Generative Conversation
To acknowledge is to look and listen deeply to details in a clear and specific way and then communicate this. We are present to what’s here and now and express it in ways that make a difference.
At a meeting, we might hear complaints about a project’s deadline. The capacity to acknowledge can pull a request out of the complaint and even respond to it, such as, “It sounds like a bit more time might be useful for this project.”
Here, we grant being to a hidden request, register it, create completion, and open space to receive other concerns.
In any situation, we have the power to recognize that which we want to see more of.
Acknowledgment is generative. It taps into the generative properties of granting being in conversations that create experiences.
When we acknowledge another, we can move people and surface qualities. We generate a quality of who that person is for us. When I recognize someone as a learner—spiritual, open, or humorous—I’ve named a quality about them that is meaningful to me.
Acknowledgments also create completion.
- When acknowledging someone, we empower that which we wish to honor, elevate, or grow and want to see more of.
- The acknowledgment completes the cycle of accomplishment. It registers accomplishments, grants others as accomplished, and allows others to move on.
- Acknowledgment allows people to recognize and be responsible for what works about them.
Beyond Flattery and Compliments
The practice of acknowledging is different than flattery or complimenting. The key differences lie in intention and naturalness or authenticity.
- Acknowledging is sincere and authentic. It may include both positive and negative aspects and is not focused on praise. It simply states what’s so.
- Flattery, on the other hand, is insincere and often driven by self-interest and can feel manipulative.
- Complimenting is sincere but is narrowly focused on praise and admiration for someone’s positive qualities or achievements.
An employee who rearranged their workload to deliver a report will receive an acknowledgment different than a compliment. For instance:
- We can compliment them: “You did a great job handling that,” or
- We can acknowledge them: “Thanks for prioritizing this report and being responsive.”
The second comment, an acknowledgment, lands differently. It also reveals who we are (what we recognize). We are showing up differently for that person.
Acknowledgment elicits appreciation, validation of one’s efforts, and a sense of worthiness. It signifies that others have recognized our actions or accomplishments.
“Granting being” suggests a commitment and process for ascribing meaning, value, or existence to oneself, others, or the world.
Without our ability to “grant being,” we are left to fleeting transactions, missing the qualities of being human that drive our cares. We never reach the level of authentic connection critical to developing trust and deep understanding to access our dignity.
In the context of being human, the practice of granting being—by seeing, hearing, and acknowledging others—registers our dignity.
- “Being seen” pertains to being understood and valued for our authentic self.
- “Being heard” relates to having our thoughts and feelings recognized and received.
- “Being acknowledged” involves receiving recognition for our actions or contributions.
All three structures of being human are important generative capacities to practice for meaningful relationships because they contribute to a sense of validation, connection, and dignity.
Each practice also expands our humanity to be with people in situations that can move us to greater depths of awareness and connection.
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