Seek to Understand Before Trying to be Understood

People are just either not that interested in what you’re saying, or they are too focused on their own agenda. It’s ridiculous to see two people acting like they can’t really hear each other — by choice.

In “The Significance Principle,” authors Les Carter and Jim Underwood posit that we should listen past where the other person has finished. We should even pause before answering. Let them get their point, their story, their compliment, and even their criticism out. Completely.

Then, before preparing your response, ask more about what they said. Get engaged. Understand what and why. Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. That’s what they want. That’s what we all want — to be understood, valued and affirmed. What if you seek to understand but others don’t? Two things come to mind. One person truly listening is generally better than none. More important, one person listening generally leads to two people listening. Let’s be honest, if I honor you with my ears, you’ll be more likely to reciprocate. Others learn the habit through our example.

The ability to hear is a gift. The willingness to listen is a choice. Putting yourself in others’ shoes and being empathetic is a very important life skill (a critical part of my job as a part of the product community). I’ve failed at doing this multiple times and have pestered my friends when I should have just tried to understand the other person.

Contextualizing this to dating and relationships (The hardest part)

The hardest thing in a conflict is to separate the person and the points he/she is making.

This is easier said than done and I have failed many times in the past to make this separation.

When we are engaged in a heated discussion with someone we tend to listen more with the intent of replying, than to understand his/her point of view. We bring things from the past and use them to fight in the present

We let our preconceived notions about the person cloud our judgement.

The best thing to do in such a situation is to take a pause and ask yourself whether you are fighting the person or the points he/she is making. And respond to his/her points than his/her behavior (be it past or present). If you have been hurt by his/her way of speaking, something he/she did in the past, you can always bring that up later when the main discussion has ended.

In this way you will prevent fights from getting dragged on and on, and also take the decision which is best for your relationship.

Some resources that might come handy while dealing with such situations:

Books: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Articles: Best reads on Firstround to deal with conflicts, 5 hard questions to ask yourself during a conflict, How to make a good argument, 5 steps for Disagreeing Effectively

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