U is for Understanding
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
“It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging we separate. Through understanding we grow.” Doe Zantamata
Understanding, as well as being about general comprehension, is concerned with sympathetic awareness and forgiveness. Assumptions don’t have any place when one is seeking to understand; rather we need to apply The Third Agreement.
Most of our suffering and the suffering we cause others stems from our tendency to make assumptions i.e. we jump to conclusions and our subsequent reactions (or our belief that we know what someone else is thinking without asking questions) leads to misunderstanding rather than making sure that we really do understand the intention. Lack of effort and lack of communication can worsen a situation because instead of actually knowing how another person is feeling, or why they did or said something (i.e. their intention) it is easier to make superficial judgements, take things personally and simply assume.(The Second Agreement)
“The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you, but in what he cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand him, listen not to what he says but rather what he does not say”. Kahlil Gibran
Underneath every action or word, there is a feeling or intention. Underneath this is an unmet need. When we meet that need rather than focus on behaviour or the words used, we can begin to deal with the cause, rather than the symptom.
How can we seek to understand rather than judge or react?
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Dr Stephen Covey
Critical to understanding is ‘active listening’ with the intent to understand.
Stephen Covey’s book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ describes listening as the fifth habit
“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Stephen Covey
This is not a new idea, appearing in 1912 in France and known as St Francis’ Prayer “O Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”
Active listening is when, instead of thinking about what you want to say while the other person is talking, you engage your whole self and really listen to them. You show that you are paying 100% attention by your eye contact and body language and you listen to the tone of their voice. It is important not to interrupt, wait until they are done to summarise what you have understood, ask questions or add your thoughts and when you do respond, be honest and respectful in your responses. In short it is about remembering to listen and talk in ways that you, yourself would want to be listened to or spoken to.
Understanding requires genuine interest
Understanding is recognising other’s point of view and accepting that it is different from yours. Active listening requires effort; in order to be fully present and listen without judgement you need to put aside personal biases.
In the book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’, by Daniel Goleman, ‘understanding others’ is listed as the ‘first element of empathy’. Daniel Goleman suggests that understanding others is more than just being in tune with other people’s feelings and emotions, it also involves taking a genuine interest in someone and their concerns.
To connect with someone on a deeper level, we need to make an active choice to engage personally to understand that other’s strengths, and weaknesses, their hopes and their fears, their needs and their priorities, their goals, etc.
We need to take ourselves out of the equation
Each and every one of us lives in our ‘own world’; we see things through our own eyes, and perceive everything based on our own past experiences so it is easy to understand why we often find it hard see things from another perspective. In order to understand someone else’s perspective, we have to take ourselves out of the equation by consciously thinking about the other person’s life, their circumstances, and the experiences that have shaped them into becoming the person that they are so we can understand why they might think or feel in a certain way.
Why is understanding beneficial for everyone?
Understanding others is good for interpersonal relationships and Lifelong Learning. When we interact with people who think and act differently because of their different life experiences, we can learn to see things from another perspective; this creates empathy, which in turn builds trust and communication.
Understanding other perspectives can reduce stress. When you can’t understand why someone approaches an issue so differently to how you would yourself, it can become very frustrating trying to fathom where someone is coming from if you literally cannot comprehend the reasoning behind their words or actions. As we open up our mind to see the origins of different choices, even if we do not agree with them, it can help reduce the stress of the unknown and lead to acceptance.
To have a better understanding, we need to become better listeners and have a genuine desire to understand and appreciate other perspectives. The ability to hear is a gift and we have the choice whether to continue engaging in collective monologues or be willing to actively listen
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
When you next encounter someone doing or saying something that seems illogical or confusing, try asking yourself:
What is one reason why someone would do or say something like that?
What are some causes that might trigger such a reaction or response?
Try to imagine what the other person’s life and circumstances are and ask: What are their greatest needs and wants?
What motivates this person?
Can you think of a scenario that you find difficult to understand? How have you/can you seek to find a different perspective?
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Gustav Jung