Opinion: Why feeling heard matters when collaborating with others

Opinion: Why feeling heard matters when collaborating with others
Photo: Batool Banihani
SI Scholar Batool Banihani shares what she learnt from collaborating with others and the power of feeling heard.

I have always heard the theory that individuals are smarter when they work alone rather than in a group. If working alone feels like the a wise decision, then why do we choose to work in groups at all?

As much as I would love to go on about the benefits of working alone, I wonder if we do not miss out on a greater learning experience. Although working solo is efficient time and energy-wise, I believe it lacks the sharing of learnings, connections and experiences. So wouldn't we be missing out on a different way of seeing and understanding things when we work on our own?

My first experience in Sweden with collaborating was on a BTH-NFGL meeting regarding decision-making strategies.

Photo: Batool Banihani and fellow Si Scholars

Our first meeting lasted three hours, resulting in clear goals achieved. This, I felt, was a sign of people gathering around the same aim and feeling comfortable enough to share their insights. Simply because we all had the freedom to share our opinion.

The second meeting lasted another couple of hours. This time, we started with everyone introducing themselves, slowly breaking the ice and making everyone around the room feel at ease and included. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was time well spent. Couldn’t it have been more productive?

However, this new setup felt refreshing with everyone supporting each other’s voices to be heard, and when someone couldn’t attend, their ideas were still gathered and shared by another person at the meeting.  

We came to a process for decision-making involving voting. But every time there was a majority, a compromise still had to be reached, leaving everyone feeling included in the dialogue. Two hours later, we left the room with a self-appointed chairman. Talk about democracy!  

After the meeting, waiting downstairs for the rest of the group, I complained to my peer Luong Nguyen: “Two hours! I mean don’t you think that was a bit too long?” expecting him to agree with me. Instead, he gave me an unexpected answer: “I think it is important to spend time connecting, especially with people we have recently met and will be working closely with for the coming year.”

Photo: Batool Banihani and fellow Si Scholar

His answer stayed on my mind. It gave me a new perspective on what I can learn when collaborating with others. In our world, everything goes fast, giving us the feeling that there is somewhere more important to be at or something more important to do all the time. For the first time, I felt it was worthwhile staying in that room, hearing what everyone had to say and just building a bond.

Working with this set-up, I have learnt a valuable lesson: to build trust in a group, everyone needs to feel included by being heard and seen. We might not always agree, but hearing everyone’s perspective from different parts of the world is what the most valuable learning.