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Understand to be Understood


Whit Rasmussen
Whit Rasmussen
3 min read
Understand to be Understood

A favorite daily occurrence of mine lasts between 5-10 seconds.

Each morning I share a text brief text exchange with a close friend and mentor whom I've followed from afar and recently made an effort to reconnect with. We share thoughts, ideas, struggles, successes, motivations, and hard truths.

This article, the one you're reading, was written at midnight during a school night last week. Serendipitously, 8 hours later, I woke up to the following message and couldn't help but smile at the timing.

"Make friendly conversation by listening more than you talk. . . ask questions about people . . . remember details about their lives . . . make them feel important . . . positive attitude . . . good sense of humor . . . contagious to the people around you.

Of course! It all seems so obvious and true!

It's true and it's helpful if we don't forget the most important component.

"Listen more than you talk."

Consider the following situation.

From 7 Habit of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Suppose you've been having trouble with your eyes and you decide to go to an optometrist for help. After briefly listening to your complaint, he takes off his glasses and hands them to you.
"Put these on," he says. "I've worn this pair of glasses for ten years now and they've really helped me. I have an extra pair at home; you can wear these."
So you put them on, but it only makes the problem worse.
"This is terrible!" you exclaim, "I can't see a thing!"
"Well, what's wrong?" he asks. "They work great for me. Try harder."
"I am trying," you insist. "Everything is a blur."
"Well, what's the matter with you? Think positively."
"Okay, I positively can't see a thing."
"Boy, are you ungrateful." he chides. "And after all I've done to help you!"
What are the chances you'd go back to that optometrist the next time you needed help? Not very good, I would imagine. You don't have much confidence in someone who doesn't diagnose before he or she prescribes.
But how often do we diagnose before we prescribe in communication?

I'm a serial offender of this exact situation. I've played the part of the optometrist more times than I care to admit.

In those moments - in my mind, from my perspective - I know the perfect response for the situation. I think - I've personally experienced this, I read a book about this, the podcast I came across last week discussed this, my friend had this same issue, etc., etc.

The intention is good. The goal is pure. The tone is optimistic. But the effect... the effect is the opposite.  

At the end of the day, most people don't like to be preached to - to be told what is right and wrong. All events are situational and require a unique approach.

We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.

Maybe there is a reason we have two ears and only one mouth.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

The reason I love the aforementioned daily exchanges with my friend has little to do with the momentary motivation. Make no mistake, I'm a sucker for motivation and a well-timed quote!

The lasting impact of our simple daily exchange is rooted in our less frequent, multi-hour facetime discussions. We talk about anything and everything - good, bad, or neutral.

At times one of us may share new insight, may illuminate some previously unknown path, may altogether remove the underlying roadblock the other is facing.  

But the value, the true value, is feeling - knowing - that we are both heard; that someone is listening.

I fail at this daily. But I'll spend the rest of my life working to improve.

Can you think of a time where you prescribed a solution to someone's problem?

Did you allow yourself to listen - to fully understand - before you did?

Life Experiencespersonal developmentPsychologyWisdom

Whit Rasmussen

Investor 📈, Photographer 📸 & Writer 📝, Obsessive CrossFitter 🏋️‍♂️, One-Time IRONMAN 🥇, Regular Reader 📚, Perpetual Learner 💡, Habitual Optimist 😎