We all want to be understood. Our thoughts, desires, and needs are so important to us that we want them to be important to others too. When we seek first to understand others, we deepen our relationships. Our own needs ultimately are fulfilled too, because when others feel understand, they are more likely to seek to understand us too.
How we can seek first to understand
1. Admit that we don’t know best
The more we know, the harder it can to be humble. Adults assume we know more than children. Experts think they know more than amateurs. Thinking we know better results in trying to teach the other, instead of having the humility to listen and learn from them.
You can never know another person completely, even if you have known them all their life. Once we accept that our knowledge of others will always be limited, we will constantly seek to understand them better.
“Everyone has a story to tell, everyone is a writer. Some are written in the books and some are confined to hearts.” – Savi Sharma
2. Step outside our own world
Our egos keep us pretty busy thinking about ourselves in our own little worlds. Our problems are much bigger to us than other people’s problems. Usually we aren’t even aware that other people are having problems, because we didn’t stop to look and listen.
We spend so much time and money travelling the physical world. Yet we seldom step into another person’s world, even if we see that person every day. We can take a short trip into someone else’s world by just asking, “How are you?” And then listen without interrupting.
3. Understand that others are not like us
When a friend is describing a tough time, we often interrupt with “I know how you feel.” But we don’t. What we meant is that “You remind me of a time in my own life, and I know how I felt then.” Seek first to understand by listening quietly, rather than interrupting with our own life story.
Every person thinks between 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day. It is a challenge getting to know yourself, let alone someone else. If you haven’t learnt something new about someone close to you in the past month, you probably aren’t seeking to understand enough.
4. Listen with full attention
We often listen through personal filters. One of those filters is judgment. When the other person says something, we may judge that she is ‘wrong’ to think that way. Another filter is response. We starting drafting a response in our minds, and sometimes even interrupt to bestow the wisdom of our response on them.
Listening well is an art. It requires suspension of judgment and focused attention. Only then do we have a hope of truly understanding.
Seek first to understand somone today
Before you move new furniture into your home, you’d probably clear old stuff out to create room. To seek first to understand, we also need to clear space in our minds to hold some new thoughts.
If you really want to understand someone else, be prepared to put your own point of view aside for a little while. Know that you are entering someone else’s emotional home, where the layout and furniture is all different. If you can truly be present in that person’s world and learn about it, you have taken a big step towards understanding them.