The habit of understanding is made up of two parts: understanding others and being understood. Importantly, in this order. So – first I have to know how to understand, and then how to communicate so that it would be easier for others to understand me. This process requires a lot of effort and a change in the way of thinking. But as we know, the desire to be understood is the greatest desire of the human heart. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Therefore, it is worth devoting time and energy to fulfill this desire. Right?
Getting to know this art, building the habit of understanding what I wrote about earlier, puts the quality of our relationships on a completely new level. It opens another door to each other, allows us to see more, also about ourselves. There are many benefits. However, the question arises: how to do this?
Let’s start with the first part of the habit – how to understand others? Different answers may come up – be empathetic, listen carefully, actively, repeat what you heard, make sure you understand well. They are all correct, except that many of them are known mostly in theory. What about the practice? Is it also easy to apply what you theoretically know? Take a look at the questions at the end of the previous post. Think about how you answered them. While listening to someone, did you look through someone else’s or your “glasses”? Were you attentive and tried to get into someone else’s shoes or did you give advice, comment, view the situation from your point of view?
Be like an honest translator
Stephen R. Covey suggests that in order to learn the habit of understanding, you need to put yourself in the role of a reliable translator. What does it mean? Imagine or recall, if you have the experience, that you are listening to a conference or other event that is held in a different language and translated into yours. You have headphones in your ears. You hear what the interpreter is saying and thus understand the whole event. How does it happen? The translators perform simultaneous translation, i.e. they listen to what the speaker says, and at the same time translate it into your language and speak to you. Such work requires tremendous concentration and mental effort to convey to you exactly what the speaker is saying. Not your interpretation or mental shortcut of the words you hear, but just the way it was spoken. This is empathic listening, i.e. listening from the perspective of another human being.
Think again about recent times when you spoke to someone when someone shared with you a matter that is important to them. What were your reactions? Let’s take an example: Your child comes to you and says: I don’t want to go to piano lessons anymore. I like to play but because of that I don’t have time to go everywhere with my friends, and besides, they laugh at me for having such an ancient hobby.
How are you reacting?
“Honey, why don’t you just try to hold on a little longer? Maybe you will change your mind? “
“Who’s laughing at you? How is that? Tell me who does that “
“After all, you wanted to learn to play the piano yourself … And besides, those who say that about you will surely envy you”
“Don’t say that, you will definitely gain from it in the future. And no one will laugh at you.”
It is possible that these reactions are familiar to you. However, none of them are based on understanding. The first is advice that is given from your own point of view or in relation to your own needs. The second is the poll – looking for information that is relevant to you, not the child. The third is the interpretation of what is happening to the child and its environment from your own point of view. The last one is an assessment that is based on your values, on our needs.
Usually, this is how we react – from our point of view, we provide advice, probe, interpret the facts in our own way, or judge according to ourselves. We look through our glasses. How, then, could we react in a way that is based on understanding, on empathy, to this statement by the child? If I understand correctly, you feel internally torn. On the one hand, playing the piano is your passion, on the other hand, you feel that you are losing your friendship. Is that the point? Perhaps your child will answer: Yes, I am really worried that I will lose my friends and not belong to a group anymore. And besides…
Think for a moment whether the previous reactions would have allowed you to enter into deeper dialogue, to learn more about the matter. When you express your real desire to understand, the other side opens up more and you get a better picture of the situation and needs.
Take off your glasses
If you feel that instead of understanding the person with whom you are communicating, you are trying to present your point of view, assess the situation, you are too emotionally involved, you are already formulating your opinion and advice in your head about the matter, interpreting the facts in your own way, or probing to get information relevant to YOU - press the “stop” button. Try to isolate yourself from your emotions and focus on what you hear. Take your “glasses” off and put them on someone else’s. Then you will be able to translate and convey to the interlocutor in your own way what has been communicated to you, verbally and non-verbally. Like the translator, you will not judge, you will not give advice, but you will convey back the essence of what was said.
The essence of being such a reliable translator, and thus – the empathic listener – is also presented by the psychologist John Powell: Listening in dialogue is listening more to meanings than to words … In true listening, we reach behind the words, see through them, to find the person who is being revealed. Listening is a search to find the treasure of the true person as revealed verbally and nonverbally. There is the semantic problem, of course. The words bear a different connotation for you than they do for me. Consequently, I can never tell you what you said, but only what I heard. I will have to rephrase what you have said and check it out with you to make sure that what left your mind and heart arrived in my mind and heart intact and without distortion. As long as we do not listen empathetically, we see the matter from our point of view.
How do I press “stop”?
Building the habit of pressing the “stop” button:
- When someone tells me their story, I will take a breath and say “Stop. What am I really hearing?”
- Before I judge, comment, or give advice, I’ll take a breath and say: “Stop, whose point of view am I listening to?”
- When I want to say “I understand you”, I will take a breath and think: “Am I sure I fully understand what I am hearing?”
If you are not sure that you understand the interlocutor well, you can use the following phrases:
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think….
- Based on what you say, I understand that …
- I feel your real concern is …
- If I understand it right, by “x” you mean …
- I am not sure if I understood correctly. What you say means that….?
Focus on the meaning of the words. Listen with your heart. Be patient! Importantly, when talking, be aware of the circumstances, situation, environment, and culture. Sometimes it is necessary to say: I am trying to understand you. I do not want to judge, comment, or advise. I just want to understand what you want me to understand. If you have very good and close contact with someone and you really understand someone, you will know a lot without words. All you need is someone’s look, gesture, or body configuration, and it will be clear to you what is actually going on.
The art and building the habit of understanding, however, is not only about understanding others. This is its first part, the first step. The second is trying to be understood. Why in this order and not the other way around? As you begin to understand others better, you will find that it will be easier for you to share your opinions, teach your children, argue with respect and treat others with love. You will know what “glasses” the other party is wearing and that way you will be able to communicate with them according to their tongue. When you listen to someone more, you understand better how that person thinks. Thanks to this, you can present your view more effectively and be understood.
Imagine a situation where you are arguing with your partner, child, or boss. Each of you agrees to your own arguments and does not think to put on the “glasses” of the other side, even for a moment. How do such situations usually end? Slamming doors, quiet days, avoiding each other in company corridors, critical comments, and loneliness. These are the consequences of misunderstanding.
What if, at the moment when emotions are growing, you say: Stop! Now I will listen to you. I will try to understand you. I will make sure that I really know what you mean or can really see the problem with your eyes. Talk to me and I will listen to you until you confirm to me that I understand you well.
The example situation described here may end up differently if you open yourself up to really understand the other side. Think that you are saying: stop! That you are becoming a reliable translator. You actually hear what the other side is up to, how they see it, how they feel about it. Would you still be so militant knowing that? And when knowing that you were truly understood, wouldn’t you be more willing to listen to the other party’s opinion?
If you want to make sure that the listener understands you well, you can ask him to tell you about it:
- Please tell me what you understand from my words …
- If I can see and feel right, do you have the same understanding of “x” as I do?
- I’m not sure you understood me. So let me repeat….
What about criticism?
Being understood also involves expressing a critical opinion about the behavior of others. It must be remembered that each of us has our “blind spots”, that is, weaknesses that we do not notice, but which are important for our change and development. If we love, care about someone, we should highlight these “blind spots”, but do it in such a way as to be understood. Do it with respect and positive energy.
What can help?
- First of all, think about whether what you are trying to say will really help that person, or will it just fulfill your needs to “get them back in line”?
- Become a reliable translator to find out how your opinion can help this person.
- Express your opinion about the behavior and actions of that person, not about themselves. Express your feelings about the situation, your worries about it.
- Express all your observations in the first form, saying: “I feel it this way ..”, “I am worried about this and that ..”, “I noticed that ..”.
- Also share how you perceive the true character of a person, what you see good in them, for example, saying “I love you / I like you very much / You are important to me. I know this behavior, this situation is just an element, a part of who you are. And to me, you are important as a whole.” Expressing opinions about someone’s behavior in the form of the first person puts us on a par with him, creates a horizontal character of communication. If I say to someone, “Because you’re so irresponsible!”, it automatically builds levels, putting someone higher and lower.
- Introduce the principle of using the habit of understanding (according to Stephen Covey): When there is a difference of views in a family/group of friends/relationship, we do not present our own point of view until it is explained how the situation is perceived by the other party, who confirms our explanation.
- If you know that you want to raise issues, topics that will divide your interlocutors, or you see that “pressure is rising” during the conversation, send a message: I want to talk about important and difficult issues where our views may differ. Therefore, I propose to apply the rule: – the one described in the previous point.
When people know that they will have the opportunity to express their opinion and will not be attacked, but listened to, they become more open-minded, they do not hide behind malicious comments, and at the same time listen more carefully to the opinions of others.
Step by step
In implementing the habit of understanding, the sequence is important. First, I learn to understand, I learn to be empathetic, to listen, to listen properly. And then I learn to be understood. This sequence tells us not only what to do for the other person, but why and when to do it. It teaches us to listen and speak from the bottom of our hearts.
You may think: gosh, but it takes time, energy, patience! Yes, the art of understanding and being understood is not easy. It’s a good school for ourselves, getting to know ourselves, our reactions, and our thoughts. It’s an effort to be for someone, a really great desire to see the other side. It is also a struggle not to judge, not to comment. Do not pigeonhole and pin cards, do not throw epithets or comments. It is shifting your attention to a different track, putting on someone else’s “glasses”.
But isn’t building real, reliable, and lasting relationships worth it?