Understanding Versus Being Understood

“What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate”

So much of human communication hinges upon understanding one another. We usually are safe to make the assumption  that the other person is listening well enough to understand what we are saying.  Yet, when two people are focused on making the other one understand what they are saying, this speaking past each other can lead to real challenges.  It is not always safe to assume that the other person is actually listening to understand.  At times like this “we have a failure to communicate.”

The way to break the impasse is for either party to begin the process of listening to the other person in hopes of understanding what they are actually saying.  When each person is mutually invested in this process the results can be astounding.  When neither person is invested in this process of listening the results can be devastating.

When one person is willing to stop and listen change begins to occur.  What is more, with active listening using tools like paraphrasing or reflecting questions the process of listening enters a new dimension that introduces empathy.  The goal of the listener is for the other person (i.e., the one seeking to be understood) to agree that, indeed, the listener does understand.  When that moment occurs, then the energy is diminished from the struggle to be understood and a genuine conversation can begin.  When the speaker senses that he/she is being understood they are empowered to return the favor and begin the process of active listening while the original listener now shares his or her perspective.

This process of active listening can be learned.  Once mastered it can become a powerful tool for strengthening and deepening relationships from the basic level of one-on-one conversation to the macro level of communication between nation states.


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