Understanding Others #4 – “Help Me Understand”

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.”

More in this series
Understanding Others #1
Understanding Others #2
Understanding Others #3

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Understanding Others #3

In her book “Personality Plus” Florence Littauer outlines generalised descriptions of four personality types. She gives a diagnostic tool that you can use to determine which of these you are most like but you may be able to identify yourself in one of these categories purely on the following brief descriptions.

POPULAR SANGUINE

Pros – The Sanguine is the outgoing personality, life of the party, entertaining, engaging, fun and spontaneous. They are exciting to be around because they are so interactive and energetic. They’re the most likely to shout or cheer if you tell them good news and will probably laugh the longest at your jokes and stories.

Cons – Sanguines generally lack structure and order and pay little heed to schedule or routine which can make them unpredictable and unreliable. They are often running late and leaving tasks unfinished. They can also be socially dominating.

POWERFUL CHOLERIC

Pros – Cholerics make great leaders and CEOs because they are very ‘driven’ and motivated. They are great in directing and overseeing and have capacity to accomplish projects on a large scale. They are confident and respond to challenges. They are ‘can do’ kind of people and work quickly and decisively. Cholerics take on projects that most other would be intimidated by.

Cons – The Choleric is typically strongly task focussed and can often be so to the detriment of helpful relationships and group dynamics. Whilst they are charging off to achieve great things they can often hurt people and leave a wide path of damage in their wake. They can be bossy and domineering.

PEACEFUL PHLEGMATIC

Pros – The majority of ‘people’ are Phlegmatic and this is what keeps the world going around! They are great followers; great supporters. They are able to remain emotionally neutral in difficult situations providing stability with their ‘unflappability’. They are agreeable, amiable and often helpful in mediating others and keeping the peace. They are faithful and loyal.

Cons – The Phlegmatic’s “whatever”, easy going attitude can often morph into laziness and/or stubbornness. They can be hard to motivate to action, difficult to inspire to emotional response or reaction and resistant to change. Their ‘steady’ pace can often bring frustration to those wanting to move a little faster.

PERFECT MELANCHOLY

Pros – Melancholy people are deep and creative thinkers. They do a lot of internal processing and analysing. This makes them great at strategy and logistics. They can identify potential problems and think ahead to possible solutions. They are often musical or artistic. They are great at keeping records and recalling details.

Cons – Because the Melancholy spends a lot of time in thought and internal dialogue they can become TOO introspective, negative or even depressed. They are often fearful in social situations because they over-analyse things. They are often slow to make friends and can tend to hold grudges.

Which one are you? Which one is your spouse, children, work colleagues, family members and friends?

These descriptions are not designed to pigeon-hole or ‘label’ you. They don’t EXCUSE any nuances of your personality but they may help to EXPLAIN something more of who you are and how you are more likely to respond to and interpret situations.
For me personally, this framework was instrumental in my journey to understanding and appreciating myself more (there’s a whole SECTION that describes me, I must not be *that* weird) and radically transformed both my understanding of others and my understanding of how they understood me (or didn’t).

More next time!! …

Understanding Others #1
Understanding Others #2
Understanding Others #4

Understanding Others – #1

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this before, but everyone else is not like you! Have you caught that? Bizarre but true! People think differently, they respond differently, they behave differently … they value different things, make different decisions, choose different life paths.

Those differences confront us at every turn – in the little and the big. When planning a meal for a family with a wide range of food preferences, sitting on a train and observing people’s sense of socially acceptable behaviour or trying to resolve a conflict with a friend or spouse.

In Proverbs 4:7 it says “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it costs you all you have, get understanding.”

If you are interested in improving your relationships, in reducing your frustration levels, in experiencing greater peace in your daily life (and who isn’t?) you might want to consider these words of Solomon more closely.

There is incredible power – to heal, to calm, to enable, to free – in the simple (but not easy) process of understanding others. There are few things more able to defuse anger, disappointment, wounding or annoyance than a healthy dose of understanding. Anything that can help you to perceive and receive things through another’s lens, anything that provides greater context for what you are witnessing or experiencing, anything that positions you in a place of empathy and assistance (rather than opposition and resistance) can only be beneficial.

I’m a great proponent of personality theory. The idea of doing some thinking and exploring (reading, talking and listening) around the areas of temperament and nature that can help us first to understand ourselves … then to understand others … then to understand why others don’t understand us … and then to help others understand why others don’t understand them … etc.

There are a million and one diagnostic tools available to help in this area. One of the simplest and most readily applicable I know of is “Personality Plus” by Christian author Florence Littauer (clickhere for more information). Over the next few blog posts we’ll use her framework to give us some insight into understanding ourselves and others more.

Please hear my heart in this.

Solomon advises that wisdom is supreme and understanding is worth any price we need to pay for it.

In my own life, coming to understand myself more through this kind of lens was nothing short of transformational – it freed me to celebrate how God had uniquely wired me while being more empathetic to how others received me. It changed ALL of my relationships, it impacted my work life, it grew me in wisdom and my ability to relate to, encourage and lead others. (All of these things are definitely still a work in progress!)

Let’s see if we can’t move a little further along in our journey towards understanding others.

More in this series
Understanding Others #2
Understanding Others #3
Understanding Others #4

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #4: Great Expectations

All the Christmas-time commercials depict the most idyllic of family gatherings. The weather is always perfect, the table decorations are a work of art, the ham is larger than any home oven’s capacity to cook it and somehow the friends and family have all managed to coordinate their wardrobe perfectly!! Everyone is delighted with their gifts. Toddlers goo and gah in adorable reindeer ears (that stay on for more than 30 seconds!). The post-lunch cricket game is played by all in a manicured back yard. It seems almost too good to be true.

Probably because it is!

To start with, when is the weather ever perfect on a Christmas day in Melbourne?

The reality is that for many, even with the best intentions to the contrary, the family gathering can be a stress laden exercise that leaves you exhausted from the sheer effort of it all. And unfortunately for some, it can be downright painful! Many a family gathering ends in frustration or wounding and the angry car ride home where the question is raised, ‘why do we do that again?’

I think much of our disappointment in the reality of these gatherings can come down to expectations … unrealistic, unfulfilled, un-communicated or misaligned. Somehow what we anticipated the occasion to be sets us up for disappointment in what it actually is. Some thoughts to consider …

  • Communication is key to aligning your expectations with other family and friends (see blog #3 here). Be sure that you’ve thoroughly discussed what each of your events is to look like and help everyone be on the same page.
  • Presuming family will do family the same way is a recipe for disaster. The fact that siblings were raised in the same home/family does not mean they will all raise THEIR families the same way. Acknowledging that will go some way to having you accommodating the differences with a little more understanding.
  • Christmas gatherings are generally longer than any other social event you have throughout the year. For some, extended times of being social are actually quite tiring and it’s often toward the end of these that ‘tensions’ can arise. Know yourselves and your kids – don’t expect too much of energy levels and capacity for patience and tolerance.
  • Make the important things the important things. A ‘successful’ Christmas gathering is measured by the nature and quality of interactions and connections with people. That’s the important thing! Keep that in mind and it means that a flopped pav, a poorly received present or later-than-planned meal time really doesn’t have the power to ‘ruin’ your day.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #3: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Have you ever fantasised about how much easier life would be if everybody thought the same way you do? How much simpler would that be, right? No one would ever misunderstand you. Everyone would ‘get’ you without you needing to spell it out. Imagine how much time you could save having to explain or justify yourself. Oh, what frustration you would avoid if everyone saw, thought, spoke and processed the same way as you … in the same time frame … with the same responses. Ahhh the bliss!

Ok, back from your little daydream to reality!!

The only one who thinks precisely like you is you!

I’m sure that’s not exactly breaking news to anyone but the reality is that a lot of communication break downs, relational stress and emotional ‘tension’ could be easily remedied if everyone could just KNOW what we were thinking! Right? Alternatively, it might be worth considering some more external modes of processing and communicating. J

Family and social gatherings are classic environments for misaligned thoughts and expectations (see blog #4 – Great Expectations) to wreak havoc on our capacity to enjoy those moments fully. When I said “I’ll bring my camera” I thought everyone would know I meant “I’ll be taking professionally posed family portraits so dress and prepare appropriately”. She said “let’s just keep it casual and hang out together over lunch” so why is she wearing high heels and carrying an antipasto platter the size of a small table while I’m in my sneakers and holding 2 roast chickens still in their bags? We said “let’s catch up after breakfast” – our kids have been waiting since 6:45am, it’s 11:30am and they’re still not here. When I said, “let’s just exchange small gifts this year” I didn’t mean this (*exchanges Gold Class tickets for 4 people for a Wonka’s lolly stocking*).

As you plan and prepare and gather in these coming days – be sure you’ve allowed some of your thinking to become helpful communication. So many hurts and misunderstandings could be avoided if we’d only taken just that little more time to clarify plans, expectations and perspectives. Let’s be humble enough to ask further questions and generous enough to give just a little more information