10/15/2012 05:53 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2012

Understanding Others: Part II

Once you have mastered the art of being present -- mentally and physically -- when someone is talking to you, you will be a much better listener and everyone around you will feel safer, more secure, and understood.

What else can you do to increase your level of understanding in any situation?

The conversation is not all about you!

Unless we are advanced communicators, our "operating platform" is that of our inner toddlers who see themselves at the center of everything and anything that happens. This means that no matter what the other person is saying or the message they are trying to convey, we interpret it all through a filter that they are really talking about us! And we find a way to tie it into our deepest fears, or we perceive what they are saying and judge it and them, and then we attack, defend or justify.

Understanding others is forgetting about you for a short time -- especially keeping your inner toddler tamed to be patient. And it's about checking what you think you heard vs. making assumptions. At least let the other person get to the end of their comments before you react without checking their real intent.

The meaning of the words you hear

The meaning you give to the words you hear are often very different from the meaning that the speaker has for them. The non-verbals, which are roughly 93 percent of the message that is communicated, are critical for understanding what someone else really means. [1] And even if we observe these carefully, we are still just assuming or guessing by reading what we see -- we still need to ask questions to clarify and confirm.

Words are used to wrap feelings! To truly understand, we need to work out or know what feelings the person is trying to convey to you.

As they start to speak, ask yourself, "What does this person really want from me?" and then listen with that as an intention. You are searching for feelings they are verbally and non-verbally expressing.

Your first mission, should you choose to accept it, is to ask yourself this question in every conversation you have and seek to understand.

Ask questions vs. assume

When you ask someone a question and you are genuinely seeking to understand and not trap them or catch them out, you will have more information and that will allow you to understand more of what the other person is really wanting from you.

We make so many assumptions about what other people say, mean or do and as that old saying goes, to assume is to make an ass out of you and me!

Your second mission this week (should you choose to accept it) is to carefully monitor your own "assumption factor." How often do you assume you know what someone means or is saying, and how often do you check to see that you were accurate with your assumption? This means check what you think you heard by asking a clarifying question.

We can't possibly know what is going on inside someone else's head and thoughts -- even though we know someone really well. It's always better to check. And the best way to check is by asking questions.

In the next blog we will consider how to ask questions that elicit the information you want -- and make you a fascinating person!

We would love it if you commented on the results of your missions, if you chose to accept them.


Amanda Gore

For more by Amanda Gore, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.


1. Mehrabian, Albert (1971). Silent Messages (1st ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-00910-7.