THE BLOG

Understanding Others: Part I

10/10/2012 01:43 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2012

If you consider a line with fear on one end, at the opposite end is understanding. I have discussed some ways you can understand yourself in the previous blogs -- this one is about understanding others!

How do you understand others?

Be present and want to understand

Firstly, you need to want to understand them. Stephen Covey, in his great book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists one of the habits as ''seek first to understand, then be understood."

If we really made a conscious effort to do this, many of our problems in life would disappear!

One of the best ways to actually understand another person is to be truly present when they are speaking. That means you listen to what they are saying without listening to a small portion and then preparing your defense.

Pay Full Attention

What normally happens is that we don't give another person our full attention to start with, so with one part of our brain we are pretending we are paying attention but really we are thinking about something else.

Then the limbic part of our brain -- the Neanderthal part, the part that is very primitive and only responds with fear -- hears something.

It instantly takes this phrase or word out of context and tells us that we are being "attacked" in some way. Maybe it tells us this person is not safe or is wanting to harm us, and before we have any consciousness, we have reacted!

We Take Things Out of Context...

At other times, we are listening but we hear something to which we take offense and at that second, we stop listening and we certainly are not trying to understand. We are instead listening for the gap in the other person's conversation, and we are planning what we are going to say as soon as we have that gap.

Needless to say, this does not foster two-way communication, let alone understanding!

Your mission for today is to focus on being present to every single conversation you have with every single person -- no matter how long it takes.

You are to wait patiently, breathing until they have finished. Then do something that my mentor in group dynamics Michael Grinder taught me.

When they have finished speaking, look down, nod and count to five while you breathe and reflect on what they have said.

If they say nothing after that, then they are ready for you to respond, not react. Once you have heard everything they wanted to say, you have more information with which you can discern and understand more accurately.

Never fear, you will have your chance to say what you feel -- even more so if you make the other person feel validated, listened to and understood!

Amanda Gore

For more by Amanda Gore, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.