Welcome back to my understanding series! Last week, we talked about why understanding is so important. If you didn’t get a chance to read that and you still aren’t convinced, please go back and take a look. This week we’re concluding and talking about how to understand. What process should you follow? What tips and tricks should you use?
I’ll paint the picture for you. You’re in a heated debate with someone. They feel very passionately about an issue that means very little to you. Or even harder, they feel very passionately about something that you totally disagree with. Now what?
Well this is where we take a step back and decide that we are going to try to understand their perspective. We know that we should try to understand, but how do we do it?
Let’s get started.
How to understand
1. Leave the comfort of your surroundings and try to see the world from another perspective.
Sometimes we don’t want to understand. We don’t want to put ourself in another person’s shoes, because they may be wearing torn raggedly rubber flip flops, and we may have the latest Jordans. Sometimes, leaving our comfortable world, can make us uncomfortable. And sometimes, because we are so comfortable in our world, we refuse to accept that anyone living parallel to us can be experiencing discomfort. Or even worse, we assume that the discomfort was their own doing.
I love math. I love it a ridiculous amount. In college, I worked with one of my professors doing math research, and when we had some down time, she would have me grade papers. Well the papers I was grading were from a math class that had really come easily to me. While grading papers, I noticed that one of my friends was in the class, and his test grade was pretty awful. This kept happening, I kept grading and he kept getting bad grades. I figured that maybe he was just goofing off, and his grades were reflecting that. I never mentioned that I saw his grades, I thought it might embarrass him, so I never said anything.
At the end of the semester, he found out I had been grading the papers, and he told me how hard the class had been for him. He’d spend hours studying for this class, only to still fail the test. He asked, why I hadn’t offered to help him. The truth was, I didn’t think he needed help. I had never once considered that he was struggling in the class. I just thought, since it came easy to me, it must come easy to everyone. In my head, if I understood the math, everyone understood the math, or at least they could, if they studied hard enough. But that wasn’t true, the amount of studying wasn’t always proportionate to the grade. But looking at it that way was uncomfortable for me.
This is just a small example, but this discomfort can span across races, social classes, genders, really anything. The point is, we have to open our eyes and realize, that everyone doesn’t have it as good as we do. We have to first accept that. Accept that for other people, things can be a problem, even if they aren’t for us.
And that’s ok, because this isn’t about you. This is about understanding someone else. After we accept that we have different shoes, we then have to allow ourselves to imagine the world from that other persons perspective, wearing their shoes, and all of the problems that come along with that. That can be hard. But it’s necessary.
2. Drill down deep
What’s on the surface is usually not the issue. For example, if I get offended when you take a long time to respond to my text message, it might not be about response time at all. It could be because I spent my whole life being ignored and it brings back memories. The issue isn’t always the issue. And if we take enough time to drill down really deep, we might just discover what the actual issue is.
This goes both ways. I have to drill down and understand what the other person is saying, but I also have to drill down and realize what I am saying. If I’m completely honest with myself, when I realize that I have issues do I take the time to really drill down and figure out why? Not usually.
What’s on the surface is rarely ever the whole story. And what we see will probably surprise us. So take time to figure out what you are really arguing about, so that you can then figure out what you really need to understand.
3. Take your feelings out of it
When you’re trying to understand, it’s not about you, it’s all about the other person. In other words, don’t put your lense on what they are saying. You have to use their lense.
What does this mean?
I’m not really a sports person. There are a few that I like to watch..and by a few I mean 2. But I have a lot of friends that really love sports. So when one of my friends calls and is particularly crushed that their team didn’t make it to whatever the big event for that sport is, I don’t get it. I feel like it’s just a game. I feel like they can try again next year, and I feel like they don’t personally know any of the people on the team anyway, so how is it ‘their team’? But that’s looking at it through my lense, which is the lense of someone who doesn’t care for sports.
If I was really trying to understand their pain, I would think of it through their lense. They love this sport, they love this team. They invite these people into their house multiple times a week, and talk to them on a first name basis. When they score, they cheer, and they groan when they miss. They organize events in their life around these games. They do all of that, and then the team loses the big game. Aaah. Now it makes sense.
See if I had just kept looking at this thing from my perspective, it never would have made sense. But when I let go of how I feel about a thing, and realize how another person feels about it, only then can I understand.
4. Realize understanding does not equal agreement
After you’ve taken the time to understand, you may have a really complete picture of something…and still not agree with it. That’s not the point. The point is, you tried. You thought someone was valuable enough to put in the work it took to understand them. You didn’t dismiss their concerns or feelings. Something about that, about seeing them as human, seeing them as your equal will give you more compassion and respect for them and their issue, even if you disagree with it.
We don’t all have to agree. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, and because of that, I think it would be impossible for everyone to agree on everything. And that’s fine. My point is, we can disagree in a nice way. We can disagree, but still try to understand where the other person is coming from. We can respect our differences, and if we want to get really advanced, we can even learn from them.
It’s ok to disagree, but everyone deserves respect. Everyone deserves an opportunity to be heard. And how do you respect someone? You try to understand them, and sometimes, maybe that’s enough.
Make life sweet and learn all you can.