Make an effort to understand others

Often we let understanding boil down to a decision whether we agree or not with somebody’s viewpoints. Whether you agree or disagree with somebody is less important than whether you know and understand what you agree or disagree on.

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize what you heard is not what I meant

Robert McCloskey

Understanding is more than listening alone. It is digging deeper to understand the meaning. Sometimes, the topics not mentioned are the key messages. The only way to get to those unsaid topics is to ask about them and be willing to explore.

Test your understanding

Summarizing is a way to share with somebody else that you listened to them by playing back to them what they have just said in condensed form. However, did you understand them?

Ask yourself “Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language.”

Richard Feynman

I love the challenge of Feynman in this quote, which is about the difference between “knowing” and “understanding”. Do you understand the other person, or are you just regurgitating their words to prove you have recorded their messages to your knowledge archive?

Understanding is not about checking if you are right and fits your worldview or recording other people’s statements. It is about exploring where somebody is coming from and being willing to change your mind, or at least keep an open mind and accept that you might be wrong.

Knowing where somebody is with their viewpoints is less than half the story. Willing to explore why somebody is there with their views create the essential pieces to an accurate understanding.