Help Me to Better Understand You

Isn’t it interesting how, when we’re in a long-standing relationship, we expect, and already assume that our partner will know our likes and dislikes, how we think about certain things. We can become disappointed, already angry, if they slip up, don’t ‘get us’, or misread us completely; ‘they should have known I would/wouldn’t like that, at all event were they thinking!’

We may feel that they’re not paying attention, are not fully invested in the relationship, don’t care enough about us. But maybe we should question if we’ve explained ourselves sufficiently well. How could they know these things, have we told them, do we expect them to be psychic?

We meet other people, possible new friends, in random, in addition self-selecting situations, often starting with only one or two points of commonality. We may work together, go to the gym at the same time, network, use public transport. Over time our initial smile of recognition may little by little evolve into a few words of friendly greeting or already an interest in taking things further and socialising together.

A new friendship can blossom as we start to find out more about each other, perhaps being pleasantly surprised as we discover shared interests, likes and dislikes. We may feel so comfortable and in tune with each other that we simply assume that we proportion the same views and outlooks on many other topics.

Someone I hardly know, a friend of a mutual acquaintance, recently sent me a text saying that she’d had a dream about me. In her dream she said that I’d wanted to tell her certain things but felt unable to do so. She had texted me because she was concerned about me and my emotional state.

She was shocked when I replied, pointing out that it was her dream, the feelings were hers and anything she assumed to be true of me in the dream was truly nothing to do with me at all. She’d merely used me as a conduit to express her own thoughts and feelings about various things that were happening in her life. She’d interpreted the dream as being true to life, an insight into how I was truly feeling at the time, when in reality it was all about her.

This is a perfect example of the way our own reality can absorb and consume us to such an extent that we lose sight of how rare our personal experience of life is. We each have our own individual perspective and perception on life and living.

So how do we become better able to understand each other?

When we want to relate to, understand and get to know others improving how we listen to them is an important skill. Double-checking that we’ve heard and understood correctly, maybe clarifying details that we’re unsure about and showing that we’re interested and engaged all help in improving any communications.

– Practise empathy. How would you feel if you were in their situation? Clearly they have their own interpretation of what’s going on, but being supportive and demonstrating an emotion that resonates with what they’ve said shows that you’re trying to be in tune with them, are respecting their situation.

– But equally, avoid hi-jacking the conversation with an, ‘I know how you feel, it happened to me, let me tell you all about it!’ Whilst it might be comforting for them to know they’re not alone in their experiences, this does rather succeed in diminishing their feelings and makes the conversation all about you. Not very understanding, is it!

– Avoid the temptation to jump to conclusions, finish sentences or second-guess what you’re being told. Make good eye contact and be patient as you listen attentively. Understanding comes from appreciating the complete picture, how they’re feeling about their story, not just the words that are being said.

– Good communicators avoid using jargon or acronyms. They explain the basics, not in a condescending way, but in a way that allows others to feel comfortable and included. When we’re familiar with our own subject, are all too aware of our own story, it can be easy to presume that others are as au fait as we are, that they have the same level of understanding. But that’s not always the case.

We can be so immersed and wrapped-up in our story, our own version of events that we, often unwittingly, preclude others from being able to understand us. A little additional care and attention invested in expressing ourselves well can make all the difference and help others be able to understand us better.

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