Build Empathy and Understanding with ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’

A Liberating Structure to build understanding and empathy.

Christiaan Verwijs
Feb 17 · 5 min read

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.

How often do you find yourself in a position where you have the uninterrupted attention of another person? Where you have to space to say what you want to say, without feeling rushed or interrupted by their questions? How often do you find yourself in a position where you can fully empathize with another person by just listening to their story?

The purpose of Heard, Seen, Respected

‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ is all about building empathy and compassion. It does so by inviting us to share a story of a time when we felt not heard, seen or respected. But also by inviting us to actively listen to the story of another person.

This structure was created by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, inspired by earlier work by Mark Jones.

Steps to facilitate Heard, Seen, Respected

  • Begin by introducing the purpose ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’. In this structure, participants will take turns to share a personal story while the other person listens with full attention;
  • (2 min) Individually and in silence, invite participants to think of a situation or a time when they felt NOT heard, seen or respected. Taking from Keith McCandless, we always encourage them to avoid picking the biggest one — the one that stings the most;
  • (1 min) Ask people to pair up and pull up chairs so they can sit face-to-face, knees almost touching, without anything between them;
  • (14 min) In pairs, each person has 7 minutes to share their story. The other person listens with full, undivided attention and doesn’t ask any questions;
  • (5 min) In their pairs, partners share the experiences of listening and storytelling: “What did it feel like to tell my story; what did it feel like to listen to your story?”;
  • (10 min) Using 1–2–4-ALL, invite participants to reflect on the stories and identify patterns. What do these patterns mean to this group? How could HSR or other Liberating Structures be used to address the challenges revealed by the patterns?”;

Examples of Heard, Seen, Respected

  • We have used ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ with groups that are experiencing conflict as a way to start rebuilding trust and empathy. In this case, we invite participants to use examples outside of this group, so as to avoid drawing the conflict itself into HSR;
  • We often use ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ as a way to build trust in new groups;
  • We like to use a riff of ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ with Scrum Masters. Instead of the three regular questions, we instead ask participants to respond to three different questions: “What are the pitfalls and ”, “What are the reasons and excuses that you find yourself using to avoid going all-in?” and “What is a change you can make that would drive you forward?”;

Combinations With Other Liberating Structures

‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ has a rather specific purpose. At first glance, this might seem to make it hard to combine it with other Liberating Structures.


People who participate in ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ often reflect on the power of silence while also acknowledging how difficult it is to only listen. They also recognize how liberating HSR can be by both freeing the listener from the responsibility to ask (clever) questions while also freeing the person sharing their story from having to respond to questions.

If there’s something our world needs more of, it is empathy and compassion. We are often quick to pass judgment or to engage in a discussion to convince the other of our point of view. But silence often trump’s talking. There is great power in listening as it allows us to “step into the shoes of the other” and recognize their worries, pains, and frustrations. ‘Heard, Seen, Respected’ is all about creating a space where this is possible. If only for a fleeting moment in time, it helps us to better understand others and recognize the power of silence.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

Christiaan Verwijs

Written by

I aim to liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing and ineffective ways of organizing work. Professional Scrum Trainer & Steward @

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

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