What does it mean to truly understand another person? Is it a matter of hearing their words and nodding in agreement, anxious and fully ready to convince them of our own point of view? Does it mean that we’ve already “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” and therefore assume that we know what they’re going through?
There is an old Native American proverb that says, “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”. We’ve all heard it said that we should not judge others at all – yet, exercising judgment in our lives is a necessary part of living and something we all must be capable of. Condemning another person is a whole different idea. The point is, that we shouldn’t judge another until we have a true understanding of where they are coming from.
So many widely respected and inspiring people have written about understanding in one way or another. Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dale Carnegie have taught how this principle can totally turn lives around and give you control over yourself and situations that would be impossible without true understanding.
In his best-selling book, “7-Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey teaches Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To be Understood. The rewards of true understanding are beyond measure and it may even be true that no solid, constructive relationship can last without that type of understanding.
True understanding is empathetic. To actually feel what another person is feeling inside about a situation – even if for only a moment. Khen Lampert said, “Empathy is what happens to us when we leave our own bodies…and find ourselves either momentarily or for a longer period of time in the mind of the other. We observe reality through her eyes, feel her emotions, share in her pain..”
Let’s Cook Up Some Understanding
So, what are the ingredients of “true understanding”?
Obviously, to have a true understanding of another person, we have to have a genuine desire to understand. This isn’t just wanting answers from them – it is a sincere desire within you to know the person. A strong enough emotion that it will motivate you to follow through in the recipe of understanding long enough to bake in the rest of the ingredients.
This is the big one. I’ve talked a lot about what I call “Unwritten Laws of the Universe”. One of those laws – or timeless principles – is that pride and understanding cannot coexist.
What …we can’t have pride? Hold on – I’m not talking about being proud of your child’s performance in the school concert, your award winning flower garden or a job well done. I’m going straight to the kind of pride that inflated ego and conceit are built of. Pride that blocks a person from really seeing a situation through the eyes of another person because we already think we know how they feel.
The thought of taking on someone else’s perspective makes most of us nervous, naturally, as we don’t want to lose our own identity. Most often, we are already strongly opinionated when the need for understanding is the greatest.
Pride is that thing inside of us that protects our own point of view, keeps up a defensive wall and guards against whatever might threaten our sense of being. Part of our inherent nature is self-preservation. We are naturally scared of taking on true understanding of another human being because our subconscious knows that it might just change how we think or feel about a situation if we can really see it from the other person’s perspective.
Relax. The good news is that you don’t have to give up who you are or your own beliefs to really gain perspective from the eyes of another person. If you have a real desire to understand and are willing to set aside your personal pride in this situation, you’ve got the foundation for understanding already in place.
Desire and humility really go together – as the first ingredients required before the rest of the recipe will work.
The disclaimer here is that once you have gained a true understanding, it might just cause you to think or feel differently about things. Is that so bad? Not if personal growth, success, a stronger relationship, more effective leadership and personal empowerment are what you’re after.
Effort & Patience
The next two ingredients, effort & patience, go hand in hand. We’ll have to work them in together as we go.
Have you ever had a sudden epiphany that changed your outlook or the way you felt about something? there are moments in life when we’re fortunate enough to have all of the right ingredients seemingly fall into place at just the right time or someone will say something unexpected when we were open to hearing it… and understanding just takes place.
As mentioned before, the times when we most need to understand another person are the times when it will take the most effort. It’s the kind of paradox that makes me think our Creator has some sense of humor.
Like anything else that’s worthwhile, understanding takes effort. Sometimes we’ll have to work harder than other times – but it is going to take some amount of effort.
By effort, I mean action. Talking, listening, studying and working within yourself for a level of understanding. It’s nice if the other person wants to help you understand because they’ll (ideally) be communicating openly with you – but it doesn’t always work this way. Especially if we’ve realized the need for understanding after a misunderstanding – and now it’s become “damage control”.
We simply have no control over how patient the other person is going to be with us in our efforts to understand. All we can control is whether or not we will persevere even when it doesn’t come instantly. Sometimes it will take a while – days or even weeks. Keep trying.
What I can promise you, is that when you make the effort and exercise patience to truly understand another person – it is an investment with returns that will justify what you put into it! Remember hearing that is may not be easy, but it is worth it?
Once we feel that we’ve gained a deeper understanding of another person or the situation that they’re in, it’s time to reflect. Think about what you’ve learned through a new perspective. How did it make you feel? Try talking with them about your impressions in understanding through reflective listening.
Now, do you have a desire to change anything about your own point of view, having a deeper understanding of another person’s position?
The point of reflection is one where we can take what we’ve felt, observed and learned – then process it and apply it to our own perspective. This is the point at which personal growth or change usually takes place through true understanding.
There have been many instances in my own life when I was sure of how I felt about something or was firm in my opinion. I wasn’t about to change (or grow) and would defend my position as “the right one”. Oh, how pride gets in my way!
Once I was able to actually bring these precious ingredients together and develop or “earn” a true understanding, I was surprised at how naturally a change of heart or change of mind took place.
If there is any trick to this at all, it would seem to be simply not giving up when it’s difficult. This truly is one of those things where the rewards are in direct proportion to the effort required.