When we don’t understand another person’s perspective, we can either see it as their issue or as our issue. Remember the saying, “Judging another person doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.”
In the past few weeks, I had conversations with a number of people who have used the same phrase, “I just can’t understand how someone can …” This is a very common phrase that we use when we feel that someone makes no sense. It’s a way of saying that they are beyond comprehension, it’s a put-down, the ultimate level of ridicule. “I just can’t understand.” Do you find yourself dismissing the notions of others in a similar way? I think it’s worthwhile to understand what we’re really saying which we may not realize. In fact, understanding this is very important and there’s actually a lot at stake when we don’t.
When we don’t understand another person’s perspective, we can either see it as their issue or as our issue. When we say, “I can’t understand how ” what we’re trying to say is that they don’t make any sense. The proof, I can’t understand it. Of course, this is the height impudence. More so, though, which is most important to note, is what we’re really saying. When we can’t understand another, the problem isn’t with them, the problem is with us. Why can’t we understand another thoughtful person? We try and make it about them but it isn’t at all. It’s all about us. Open minded people understand others. No, they don’t necessarily agree with them, but surely they understand them or at least make a great effort to. It is only the close-minded individual who is too scared to consider a reality outside of their own that continues to announce, “I just can’t understand.” It’s about time we began understanding.
What is really needed is the readiness to absorb a new perspective. This is truly one of our greatest human challenges. Opening ourselves up to something new and different. The first step is the willingness to leave the comfort of your previous perspective and try the new perspective. When you go to a restaurant, do you always order the same thing or do you like trying something new? If you’re a person who enjoys trying new things, new perspectives may be easier for you to adapt to as well. Many people will order the same predictable dish over and over for many years. This is their nature. New things don’t come easy for them. Regardless of how natural it is for us, if we want to be open-minded we need to train ourselves to go into spaces, whether they be physical, emotional or intellectual spaces, which are new to us.
Productive people often challenge their own positions to see if they are correct or if there is a better perspective they can have. In any important endeavor, it is vitally important to question the way were doing things. This is how we come to newer and better ways to be far more productive. In business, money is a strong incentive and supports us being more open-minded. The challenge is when we don’t have a financial incentive. Can we incentivize ourselves?
The bottom line is, will you find the courage it takes to step out of your comfort zone and entertain opinions that you don’t necessarily agree with? One of two huge benefits will be gained by it. One, you may find out that you are in the wrong. Two, you will have a much easier time explaining to others why you think the way you do once you truly understand the other side. In fact, you’ll have a much easier time convincing others now that they felt understood. As Stephen Covey taught as one of his seven habits of highly effective people, seek first to understand, then be understood. This habit can not only transform ourselves when we practice it, it can give us the ability to transform the world.
When we learn to understand other people, it draws us much closer to them. Not only because we understand them but because they feel understood. We demonstrate that we can have a conversation without personalizing it or making it emotional. We also demonstrate that we are not so self-absorbed. Remember the saying, “Judging another person doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.” When we can’t understand another person, it doesn’t say something about them, it says everything about us.
One way to easily develop an ability to understand others is by training ourselves not to counter what another says. I practice listening to people say things which I completely disagree with without sharing an opposing view. I will generally do this when I know that they are not in the position to hearing another view. This is the perfect situation to spend time understanding their position better. And I have always found that this only leads to me being able to gain their ear in future conversation.
If you want to be a part of the solution, take responsibility and understand others instead of casting blame by implying they can’t be understood. So next time you hear an opposing view, maybe even one you feel is heretical or destructive, seek to understand. It’ll do good for you and the world.