Understanding another person, whether they are a family member, work colleague or even a close friend is the first stage in developing the relationship further. It’s easy to gloss over issues when everything is going well but much harder when the rubber really hits the road.
I’ve found that in a tense situation the first stage in trying to understand someone is to really listen. Don’t just hear the words a person is conveying but try and listen to their intent. Is it to build up or to tear down? Even if the other person is yelling at you, they may be doing so because they really care.
The main reason why people try and engage in any sort of discussion is because they care enough about the situation or person and are willing to put themselves on the line. If you’re having a clash over an issue with someone at work then ask yourself the simple question, “Why?” It’s the rare individual that is just destructive and more often than not the other person just perceives the issues from a different angle.
For example, if you put a bottle of wine in the middle of the table and ask two people on opposite sides to describe what they are seeing you will get completely different answers. While both may agree on the shape of the bottle one will describe the beautiful artistic front label and the other the detailed legal notes on the back label.
This is a good illustration, as in most situations there is something to agree upon (ie. the bottle shape) and that both parties are just viewing things differently. Understanding comes when you can suspend your own perceptions in order to put yourself in the shoes of the other person.
To be fair, not many people do this…..they mainly just argue their own entrenched position more ardently. This is quite a naïve and immature position because more often than not, when you really understand the other side of the label it alters your own perceptions. Not only that, you get to appreciate the other person even more.
Suspending your own beliefs about a situation can be very, very hard. Many years ago, I was conducting a seminar and at the end of the two-day course about 30% of the attendees didn’t like how I had presented. I’d put everything into the seminar, and I found these comments to be very hurtful.
I was faced with a decision, seek to understand what they were saying or have a pity party. Over the next 24-hours I considered all the feedback and rewrote the seminar so that it appealed to all the attendees. The following day I presented again to a different group of people and 100% of the feedback was positive.
I found the whole seminar experience a big lesson for me. I had to put aside my emotions and view any sort of criticism as a positive opportunity to learn and understand what had transpired.
So often we can view negative comments as attacks rather than as opportunities to learn, understand and potentially adapt our own thinking. There are the rare times where people are just mean….in these cases my advice is to leave the problem with them and move on.
Last year I was in a meeting where I found myself being unfairly criticized. Rather than fight back I decided to listen closely and seek first to understand what the other party was saying. Like in most circumstances, they had a number of fair points mixed up with a lot of complete misunderstanding on their part.
In the days that followed, I calmed down, sifted through the valid and invalid points and then began to work on my own behaviour. I find that changing your own behaviour is one of the most difficult things you can do and it’s likely it will take more than a life-time to master. Like they say, “Old habits die hard.”
What was most important in all of these stories is a desire to seek first to understand. I would encourage you in your next confrontation to stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself the question, “I am seeking first to understand?”
Have a great weekend!