by Andrew Cromwell
Understanding is a valuable commodity. If there was a way to miraculously increase the amount of understanding between people, it would certainly result in drastic improvements in our world. Because misunderstanding is universal it is hardly necessary to point out examples of the way this affects all of our daily lives. But we will nevertheless.
Misunderstandings are so common we take them for granted. In business, we put clauses in our contracts and endorsements on our insurance policies to help cover the very real costs that accompany failures to communicate. Universities offer degrees in conflict resolution and counselors all over the country have thriving practices because people can’t seem to figure each other out.
If only there was some easy way to solve the problem. If there was an “understanding” pill, we’d swallow it daily without question. Or if there was elective surgery that fixed relationship misunderstandings, it would be more popular than chin tucks and mommy makeovers, guaranteed.
But there is no simple solution to this challenge! Understanding, real understanding, requires sustained effort, deep humility and a sense of humor. The great news is that it is possible. Like any skill that can be honed and improved upon over time, the skill of communicating for understanding is one that can be learned and improved upon.
As with so many other important parts of life, this one functions best if our launching pad is love. When we are grounded in a true and deep loving concern for others, our goal is to understand and not just to dominate.
Whether we are communicating with our children, our spouse, our boss, our best friend, or someone we just met, getting to understanding should always be our goal. And while we may never score a perfect ten when it comes to understanding, following these simple reminders will certainly keep our scores improving.
...keep the goal in mind. If your goal is to win every conversation, then getting to understanding will always take second place. The goal is understanding. Don’t make the conversation about you, but instead about good communication. Worry less about image management (looking good to the other person) and more about understanding management (connecting with the other person). If this is our main goal, then we will naturally slow down and take the time necessary for good communication.
...listen for what they are trying to say, not just how they are saying it. There is no doubt that how something is said is very important, but when listening if we fail to take into account the whole picture, we will constantly jump to the wrong conclusion. Especially when it comes to meaningful, emotion-filled communication, often people use the wrong words or the wrong tone. But a skilled listener focuses on the heart of the communicator and seeks first their meaning and intention, not their tone and word choice.
...assume the best and stop being suspicious! Too many of us pre-judge the person we are listening too. We listen with an ear that is already full—full of preconceived assumptions, judgements, and prejudice. It is a wonder we can hear anything except what we expect to hear! Our condition tends to be the worst when we are listening to people that we have a history with. History tends to clog the ears because “we’ve heard it before” and we expect history to repeat itself.
Next time you approach a conversation, especially one that you know will be emotionally charged, take a moment to clean your ears. Intentionally wipe the slate clean and decide to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Actually decide to think the best about them and about what they are going to say to you. This simple act will go a long way to help you actually “hear” what they are saying.
If we are motivated by love and we follow these simple principles, then we can certainly grow in our ability to both understand and be understood!