Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Eight Things to Consider When Seeking to Understand

If you’ve been talking as long as I have, then you know that it isn’t always easy. Disputes can readily erupt from a misguided interpretation of a hippo yawn. Words have the ability to bend and mutate so they come out sounding entirely different than the speaking party intended.

So what’s a human to do? As always, think before we speak. And we’re wise to think about the following eight considerations when engaging in conversation and truly seeking to understand.

What are they trying to communicate?
Words might be misfiring, emotions shooting off like flares, and facial expressions could very well pass for a remarkable imitation of Jim Carey in all his impersonating glory, but it helps to ask ourselves what could possibly be the heart of the message the other party is communicating. (Wow, that was a mother long sentence.)

What is going on in their life that might affect the way their conversing?
Period anyone? Ever feel like elephants were raining on your head. All. Day. Long. And then you’re thrown into a necessary, but hypersensitive convo with oh, say your spouse. You’re already so on edge it would take less than the brush of a feather to make you crumble like Lot’s wife. Raining elephant days are something to consider when diving into the deep stuff.

What are they not saying and does it matter?
Body language. Long silences. Completely distracted by a football game. I’ve learned the hard way not to bring up a sensitive topic when there are less than four minutes remaining. Of any game at any time during any season.

Are they arguing because they feel put on the defensive?
We demonstrate discretion and introspection when we take a step back from the heat to evaluate if the manner in which we presented our thoughts potentially put the other party on the front burner.

Is this a sensitive topic for them?
We might not have a particular opinion about Tim Tebow. Hypothetically, we might not have understood the firestorm surrounding who to us has always been “just a football player”. Issues have layers. If we happen to know that bringing up the rotting green pepper incident strikes a chord with such and such, we might want to couch our words with extra care.

How many times have you discussed this topic?
Is it getting old as a rotting green pepper? Have you talked the bad boy to death? Humans can only tolerate merry-go-round topics so much. We need to feel like we’re getting somewhere, like there’s hope and a potential solution or resolve. You know what they say about the definition of insanity? So if the issue must surface, I say bring it up Loch Ness monster style and do it with a song and dance. In other words, try something new.

Take assumption out of the equation.
Resist assuming what every little eye roll might mean. Maybe there really is one fat dangling wooden plank in their eye (ha!) or perhaps there’s a lightshow of falling stars up to the left. It’s worth it to remind ourselves to assume nothing.
Because you know what assuming does to U and Me.

Be specific.

Ask for what you want. As much as we like to pretend we are, none of us are adept mind readers. As Johnny (date every woman in Hollywood) Mayer would say, “Say what you need to say.”

Any other things to consider whilst in the midst of a tête-à-tête (oh so fun to write)?

*photo = me modeling this behavior with my sister’s dog, Cael. :D


  1. I find that the best talks happen, for some reason, while walking. Something about the walking eases the talking.

    Talk on :)

  2. Wise 8 today. I also happen to love that song by Mayer. I shall now be singing it all day long. :)

  3. Not everything is personal. Quit being offended by every little thing. Give out some grace. lol
    Great eight-list!!

  4. Love these, Wendy, especially the one about remembering people might be going through something we know nothing about. I always try to read people and be sensitive to how they are acting, especially if it is out of character. It is the best way to get to the root of the problem. Ask "Is everything alright?" instead of flaring up and getting angry.

  5. Say what you need to say, and agree to disagree if you can't come to an understanding. Don't just leave anger or disappointment hanging out there for another day.

  6. Great points. I've experienced that sometimes people are going through a really difficult situation and the problem we encounter may simply be the tip of the iceburg. There are times when compassion may be just the thing to disarm a struggle.

  7. Great exploration of an important topic, Wendy. My hubby and I have learned to ask each other what's going on behind the words being spoken when we have a disagreement, and that helps get us on the same page.

  8. Funny regarding John Mayer! I love your explainations here! Seek to understand and then be understood has been a mantra of mine but I'm not always successful! Since I'm an introvert, I need to mull things over and sometimes I take an extrovert's word to heart when they are just processing out loud, yet have not come to a conclusion. Understanding personality types help me to not come to conclusions too soon.

  9. I agree with Joanne, my best talks come when I'm walking with someone. Maybe it's because I don't have to look them in the eye.

  10. Wendy, I love this. And raining elephants--that's a keeper. Yes, it took me a while to figure some of that out. Still working on it. Especially when one of those elephants splat smack dab in my face. :P

  11. Love this advice, Wendy. Not so easy to do when you're in the thick of it, but boy can it save a lot of strife!

  12. Great advice! Asking, instead of assuming something, goes a long way in helping to avoid misunderstandings. Not that I have experience with this or anything. :)

  13. "Raining elephant days" I love this phrase!

    The writer in me takes joy in phrases that instantly paint a picture and make me feel something.

  14. I need to remember all of these points when conversing with my ten-year-old daughter. Ugh! :)

  15. I love this post. As someone who works all day long with people who don't know how to communicate (children), it's especially fascinating. And teenagers? Don't get me started.

  16. One of the things Beloved and I learned was to repeat back what we heard the other person said. You'd be surprised how many times we got it wrong.


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