The experience of being understood versus interpreted, is so compelling you can charge admission.
B. Joseph Ane II
The experience of being human is fraught with the opportunity for misunderstanding between people. No one persons world view is the same as the other. Our language and self concepts are so diverse. It is almost a surprise, given our differences, that we can even communicate without more upset than we have.
Upset, breakdown and misunderstanding is so common place, yet we have very few tools to navigate the tricky waters of personal sensitivities, different stages of development, and all of our diverse views.
The Conversation for Understanding is one such tool. Many people have used the Conversation for Understanding to achieve significant resolution of stuck or dysfunctional relationships. Its is also a critical tool on any path towards personal mastery.
While the tool is relatively simple, it requires a high degree of self esteem, development and willingness from the participant.
There are three main rules as part of the Conversation for Understanding. I stress that these are rules. Agree to participate in a Conversation for Understanding and you agree to these three rules.
1. Intention To Understand.
You must have a very high commitment to understand the others point of view. If ‘zero’ indicates no commitment and ‘ten’ indicates maximum commitment, then you need to be at a nine or ten. This level of commitment requires that we give up our need to be;
*have suffered more
*have more reason for
*be less understood than..
*have a longer history of..
or any other road block to understanding. Your willingness to truly get into the others shoes, their world view, their mind set, their history and values…to understand. You do not have to agree with them. I can understand why someone may deceive their partner in relationship, and there can be very many compelling reasons as to why they would, but I do not have to agree with them that this is the right path, or even the wrong path.
Our committed intention to understand requires a willingness to put aside our own views and opinions, at least for the time it takes to inhabit the others world view, and to come from empathy and compassion towards the other. If you are not able to do this, then the issue at this point of time lies within you. You need to do the inner work on self to be able to reach a place where you can find the willingness.
During the course of the Conversation for Understanding, this commitment to understand is likely to be frequently tested. There will be moments during the conversation where you easily slip back into a place of defense and righteousness.
Therefore we need to hold clear and strong to our internal resolve to completely understand the other.
2. Only Ask Questions.
Since the purpose is to understand, no explaining is required from us. We can only ask questions to take us closer to full understanding. Inherent in rule #1 and #2 is our willingness to listen deeply and profoundly.
From our intensive listening, questions will naturally arise. The tone of the questions will match our intention to understand and therefore will not be interrogatory, sarcastic, or bitter.
We will question with genuine curiosity, aligned with our desire to fully understand. The person we are seeking to understand will not feel threatened or criticized. During the course of the Conversation for Understanding they will quickly get your intent to understand and they will relax into their explanation.
3. Do Not Defend or Justify.
If we are following the first two rules, this one will be easy. I list it as a reminder that the Conversation for Understanding does not allow any form of defense or justification. Period.
Even if the other party says something that you believe in the core of your being is wrong, you do not defend. If they say you were at X place at 10 am and you not only know that you were not, you have 10 people to prove it, you DO NOT defend yourself. The purpose of this conversation is for you to UNDERSTAND them, not for you to be RIGHT!
You will be challenged by this rule many times over during the course of the conversation. Hold your nerve, keep reminding yourself of your intent.
If at any time you break from your intention, and go into defense or justification, their guard will quickly go up, and you will need to find a way to regain their trust.
We advise using the 7 Step process of Speak the Truth, (purchase the ebook here) to prepare yourself prior to this conversation. If you are not familiar with this process set the context for the conversation by saying something like this.
“Paul, I know you and I have not been seeing eye to eye on some major issues of late. I would really like to understand your point of view on this, as I know I have not really expressed an interest in understanding where you are coming from. Would you be willing to take some time to explain to me why you feel so strongly about this issue, so I may be able to work with you in a more respectful way?”
If these words are spoken with complete sincerity, Paul is likely to say yes. If he does not agree, then follow up with words similar to these.
“Ok, I hear you are not comfortable about helping me to understand your point of view. I can understand your reluctance, given the way I have behaved towards you of late that you may very well be suspicious of my intentions. I would like to re-iterate that my intention is to really understand your point of view, and to demonstrate that, I will keep this offer on the table.”
Then you must go about your business without criticism, and stay open to your lack of full understanding. If you maintain this position and your sincerity, and ask again for them to agree to the conversation, they may become willing given time and your demonstration of sincerity.
Once you are in the Conversation for Understanding these are the main steps to take.
1. Use the communication process
as the way to “be” in the conversation. Instead of telling the truth, your listening and intuition will allow the questions to rise. Practice your active listening skills.
2. As you go through the conversation, asking questions, getting clearer and clearer, keep asking them if there is anything else they need to say.
And give them plenty of time once you have asked this question, allowing them to go deep inside to see if there is anything else.
I once did this process with a colleague of mine when we were not seeing eye to eye. I asked questions and listened to her for 45 minutes, taking 8 pages of notes (it was a phone conversation). I kept asking her if there was anything else. Finally, she said no. However, later that day I received an email with more….
This is OK…you want them to get it all out. All of it. No residue. Nothing left to be said, not one word. This is very important. Give them the space and respect to be fully heard.
3. When they are done and there is nothing else to say, it is time for you to recap what they have shared with you, in your words. It is this recap that will affirm to them that you have been listening and that you do actually understand them. If you have missed something, or not heard something in the way that resonates with them, they will correct you. Then you recap again.
“Just to be sure I have really understood you, here is what I heard……”
Then stay silent for them to speak…they will say yes, that is it; no, this also happened, or, yes this is right, but this is what I meant here….
Keep recapping until they say you have it exactly right for them.
And keep asking if there is anything else.
4. When agreement has been reached, the next step is for you to go away and reflect. Often the Conversation for Understanding process is so focused and intense, that to take time out to step back and reflect is essential for you to gain perspective.
“Thank you Paul, for giving me the time to understand your point of view. I would like to go away for a few days and really consider your point of view, and then get back to you as to how we can possibly move forward from here.”
In the experience I described with my colleague above, when I did take time to review my notes, I had a very extreme “ah!” moment. 80% of what she has said about me, word for word, was exactly what I felt and said about her. We were mirroring each other…something I had been told by my various teachers over the years happened all the time, but had never actually had thrown so clearly back in my face.
With this realization, I was able to focus on cleaning my own stuff up and could completely drop the personal issue I had towards my colleague. My relationship with her was now clean.
I have had many clients have a similar experience. Following this conversation, even when only one person out of the two is fully understood, relationships have been healed and transformed.
When people feel completely understood they simultaneously feel respected, listened to, honored.
Often times this on its own is all that is needed to heal relationships. It is a profound gift that we extend to others. (We also gain by improving communication skills within ourselves.)
Therefore in many cases it only takes one person to participate with the awareness of the Conversation for Understanding.
However, in more extreme cases, or if you have two people who have been trained in the Conversation for Understanding rules, you can take turns. Once you have fully understood the other, you may request that they give you the same opportunity. This may be important when you are working with groups, teams or nations. It may take repeated turns to reach full understanding for all parties.
The Conversation for Understanding extends the greatest courtesy, dignity and respect to the other. At its heart lies the seeds of compassion and care.
If you doubt this, remember a time when someone extended this courtesy to you, when you felt completely understood. If you have not had this experience, then extend this experience to others often, and one day someone will take the time to understand you.
We all long for understanding. The more the world takes the time to listen and understand, the less we live in divisiveness. Give the Conversation for Understanding as a gift.