In our quest to better understand one another an awareness of temperaments and personality types is a useful tool (you can read about them more here). None of these diagnostic instruments can DEFINE you and aren’t intended to PIGEON HOLE you but they can give us great insight into ourselves and one another. We can learn more about the kind of environments where some people will thrive and where others would be completely overwhelmed. We can appreciate that people will engage differently in social situations, that they will be motivated to action in diverse ways and that the way they communicate (talk, listen, respond or react) will be unique to their way of perceiving and receiving information and interpersonal nuances.
As I’ve previously mentioned, understanding firstly myself and then others in this way has been transformational – to my self-acceptance and appreciation, to all of my relationships, to the way I lead and teach, to the way I counsel others, to the way I give instructions and feedback … to virtually every area of my life that involves any kind of interaction with other people.
I’m sure you’ve all reached that point in an interaction with another person (or even an observance of them from afar) where you exclaim “I just don’t understand you!” – either out loud or just to yourself.
“I don’t understand why you would / wouldn’t do that!”
“I don’t understand how you can react that way.”
“I don’t understand why you made that decision.”
“I don’t understand how you so completely misunderstood me!”
“I don’t understand what you’re asking.”
“I don’t understand where you’re coming from.”
“I don’t understand why this matters so much to you.”
“I don’t understand … I’m sure you can fill in this gap yourself…”
Whilst for the most part, this indicates that we’ve come to the end – we’re exhausted, we’re overwhelmed, we’re sick of it: “I don’t understand…” can actually be a very empowering place to find ourselves if we let it be.
“I don’t understand …” is the gateway to “Help me understand” which is the key to unlocking a whole new level of interacting and an entirely different dimension to your relationships.
Solomon says, “though it cost you all you have; get understanding” and the reality is it might only cost you the time to say, “Help me understand.” It really isn’t that high a price to pay for the significant relational improvement that could happen as a result.
When we say “help me understand” we demonstrate that we place a high value on the relationship. When we say “help me understand” we are giving the other person an opportunity to explain themselves to US but also to understand themselves some more as they do. When we say “help me understand” we are giving ourselves tools for better interactions next time, for avoiding coming back to the same old place (y’know … the same old place!) for establishing a new way of tackling an old topic. When we say “help me understand” we are demonstrating a level of grace and submission that are necessary for healthy and helpful human interactions.
Try it out for yourself! Next time you find yourself frustrated, confused, angered or despondent over another person’s attitudes, action or speech; next time you’re in the middle of one of those circular arguments that inevitably escalate; next time you feel the disappointment of another person toward you or fear that you’ve ‘done something wrong’ … try these three words.
“Help me understand.”