UNDERSTANDING AND BEING UNDERSTOOD
I would like to commence this paper by expressing my deep appreciation of the feedback I received regarding the previous paper in this series dated 15 April 2002. The following is my summary of the comments received:
I will now present further ideas on the topic of Understanding and Being Understood, which has attracted so much interest.
One can hardly over-estimate the importance of communicating effectively on a one-to-one level, particularly in close relationships.
Person to person communication, if well managed, can result in both participants feeling deeply understood. However, even the best of relationships inevitably involve some misunderstanding, given the limitations of language.
Let us look at an example of what has been found to be a highly effective use of language.
Suppose you are having a conversation with a friend or acquaintance, and that person brings up a personal situation in which he or she has invested a high degree of emotion. Your task is to listen carefully and try to understand both the person and the situation.
Your starting point will be a genuine desire to understand. To do this, you will try to avoid some common approaches which inevitably block understanding. One of these blockages is "rushing in" to comment or advise, after hearing only a small part of the story and with phrases used all too often, such as:
These qualify as too hasty assessments or interpretations.
Another very common blockage is breaking in to the other's remarks with a long story about yourself, beginning with a statement, such as:
"I know exactly how you feel. The same thing happened to me when"
If we are not aware of blockages of this kind, they are likely to creep in to our responses, preventing or limiting understanding.
So what do we do instead? The following has been found useful:
The following may give an indication of the kind of DRAWING OUT QUESTIONS I mean:
When used with a genuine desire to understand more, drawing out questions of this kind has been found very effective in increasing understanding.
CLARIFYING QUESTIONS can also be used for this purpose. These are a combination of statement and question as illustrated in the following two examples:
Example 1: "I don't quite understand your meaning there. Could you explain how?"
Example 2: "I am not quite clear about your meaning on that last point. Did you mean(a) or (b) [here give two possible meanings]?"
To further increase this process of developing understanding, you might like to use a "reflecting back" or summarising technique at different stages of the dialogue. This has two steps as follows:
Step 1: Summarising your understanding of key aspects; and
Step 2: Asking to what extent the speaker agrees with your summary.
If well done, this approach of listening, questioning and reflecting back or summarising, enables the speaker to feel more deeply understood than in usual conversations. However, like any worthwhile skill, it needs to be developed through practice.
As a reader, however, you might be inclined to ask a question similar to this:
I view this as a fundamentally important question to be addressed in the next paper. There are, indeed, other ways in which you might benefit.
This paper has concentrated on Understanding and Being Understood since this topic has attracted considerable interest. I apologise for not having included in it some of the topics mentioned on the final page of the previous paper. These concerned perfectionism, pleasing everyone, saying "no", etc. However, I will endeavour to include something of them in the two final papers in this series, scheduled for circulation in mid September and late October 2002.
In the previous paper I also mentioned that Mr Milton Dawes of Montreal, a presenter with a high reputation in Canada and the United States, will visit us in Sydney this year to present a series of special seminars. The date for these seminars to commence has now been fixed for mid November 2002. I will give further details in the next paper.
I conclude, once again, by cordially inviting readers to comment on this paper, since feedback of every kind has been very valuable. I would be very happy to receive responses, however short or long, and will acknowledge them.
Thank you for your interest in this series of papers. I hope this one will be useful to you.
Laurie Cox, MA Teacher/Consultant in Communication
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