Understanding (takes the longest to develop) includes: “knowledge, assertiveness, empathy, listening, openness, self-disclosure, sympathy, encouragement, insight, communication, and discernment”
The first three components of a healthy relationship (love, trust and respect) depend on the fourth component (understanding) being present in your relationships. We need to communicate with people to understand them, so our focus will be communication.
But, first things first, effective communication begins with committing to the goal of safety. The way you communicate will let another person know if it is a safe environment to open up and share in, e.g. do you communicate to understand, or to judge and correct. “Communication is about understanding, not determining who is right.” When we try to determine who is right and why, or what happened, it creates a win lose situation, where one person wins and the other loses. It’s not a safe environment, a person becomes wounded and the relationship is negatively affected. When we are judged, or told not to feel a certain way, we don’t feel cared for or understood. In a safe environment, people feel cared for and respected because they are allowed to feel how they feel without being judged or being told they shouldn’t feel that way, e.g. ‘don’t worry.’ A safe environment makes communication easier, and effective communicating (more on this soon) creates more safety.
The four basic types of communication are reading, writing, speaking and listening. Think about the years you spent learning how to speak, read and write. But, what training and education have you had on learning how to listen? And I mean the type of listening that enables you to really understand the person’s meaning, because you see life from their perspective.
When we communicate, we usually seek first to be understood by others. How many times have you ‘listened’ to someone, and while he/she is talking, you are thinking of your response? It’s common, “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. “It is said that the average person will listen for seventeen seconds before they interrupt and give their idea.”
When a person speaks to you, you ‘listen’ at one of four levels:
• Ignoring: you may make the ‘right sounds’ and pretend to listen – “Yeah… Uh-huh…Ok…” but you aren’t listening at all.
• Selective listening: you hear only certain parts of the conversation
• Attentive listening: you pay attention to the words and focus your energy on the words that are said. But then there is the fourth level –the highest type of listening, which few of us reach.
• Empathic listening: where you listen to see life from his/her perspective, not yours. “The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.”
If we want to engage in effective communication, we need a shift in our thinking. We need to move from ‘seek first to be understood,’ to “seek first to understand…and then to be understood.”
Communication experts estimate:
• 10% of our communication is represented by the words we say
• 30% is represented in our sounds; and
• 60% by our body language
This means to truly listen to another person, you listen for feeling, for meaning and behaviour. You might think, ‘what? That’s going to be so hard, I can’t do that!’ Before you think, “this is not for me!” Here’s something for you to think about, when you learn and engage in effective communication, it saves time, streamlines your conversations and saves energy. Of course, because it is a new skill, it takes time to learn, but once you learn empathic listening, it saves time, because you are not misunderstanding each other. Empathic listening is not talking about your feelings till you are exhausted. This series is designed to help you. We will look at what it means and unpack it so it makes sense.
Let’s start with an example of ineffective communication:
“Come on, honey, tell me how you feel. I know it’s hard, but I’ll try to understand.”
“Oh, I don’t know Mum. You’d think it was stupid.”
“Of course I wouldn’t. You can tell me. Honey, no one cares for you as much as I do….”
You get the picture…it goes on, till finally, the child opens up and says, “I just don’t like school anymore…”
“What??!!! What do you mean you don’t like school. After all the sacrifices we’ve made…if you were more like your sister, you’d….”
We tend to jump in, try and fix things by giving advice, without really taking time to truly understand the problem. What if the child was being bullied at school, or falling behind in class because he/she actually had an undiagnosed health issue? In this example, the Mum didn’t find out what was really going on in the child’s life – why does her child think and feel the way he/she does? Instead, the Mum is telling the child what he/she should do without taking the time to truly understand the problem. The conversation goes in circles, feelings escalate, people feel hurt and nothing is resolved. “The key to good judgment is understanding. By judging first, a person will never fully understand” Seek first to understand.
If someone was in excruciating pain (every breath and movement hurt) he/she would seek medical care. Let’s say the Doctor was just starting his assessment, and this person communicated he/she was hit head on by a car (the car left its side of the road and at the same time another car hit that car, so effectively, the individual was hit head on by two cars). Imagine after hearing this, the Doctor replied, “oh, I fell out of bed and as I landed, my elbow went into my ribs, they were so sore for three days and after three days I was fine, so yeah… don’t worry, in three days you’ll be fine!” Would the individual feel confident with the Doctor’s diagnosis? No. The Doctor sought first to be understood, rather than understand. He didn’t take the time to first listen to understand so he could diagnose before prescribing treatment. In communication we need to seek first to understand and then be understood.
Here’s one more example, someone is talking to you, and you notice they keep repeating certain parts of the conversation. This often happens because the other person doesn’t feel you understand where they are coming from (their thoughts and feelings). And the conversation continues to go around in circles, and again, people become upset and hurt. Ineffective communication causes problems (e.g. frustration) and can create an unsafe environment.
Because we want to be understood first, we project our reality (our thoughts, feelings, our experience, our version of what’s right, etc) on another person.
The natural human response is, we listen to others based on seeing life from our perspective- our response is about us, not about the other person’s perspective. When we use an “it’s about me” response, we tend to use one of the following:
• Evaluate: we either agree or disagree
• Probe: we ask questions from our own frame of reference (if probing is about us, it controls and invades and because it’s solely based on logic [like playing 20 questions], it takes the emotion out of the equation, and we need emotion to help us understand where the other person is coming from. And probing is often one of the reasons parents are unable to become close to their children (like the above e.g. with the parent and child).
• Advise: we give counsel based on our own experience
• Interpret: we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behaviour, based on our own motives and behaviour”
We can’t understand someone when we try to figure him/her out based on our experience. And we can’t understand someone if we only listen to his/her words (without acknowledging the role of emotions, the tone in which the words are said, and body language).
The four skill stages to empathic listening are:
1. Mimic content: you listen to the words that someone speaks and repeat them back (it’s content only). This is the first stage skill, you are learning to shift focus from your frame of reference and your perspective (‘it’s about me’), to focusing on the person’s words. But this is the least effective skill – more is needed to understand someone.
2. You learn to rephrase the content – you think about what the person has said and you take the essence of the message (the meaning) and use the other person’s meaning but you put it in your own words, instead of repeating the person’s words, e.g. Dad: “I’ve had it with these work dinners.” Rephrase: “You don’t want to go to work dinners anymore.”
3. You reflect feeling: Dad: “I’ve had it with these work dinners.” Reflect feeling: “You’re feeling frustrated.” At this level, you’re paying attention to the way he feels about what he is saying, rather than just focusing on the words spoken. Frustration is the feeling; work dinners are the content.
4. You rephrase content and reflect feeling (uses skill stages 3 & 4): In this stage because you are seeking to truly understand and really listen, the other person recognises this change and opens up, because he trusts you. And when the other person verbalises his thoughts and feelings, it helps him work through what he is thinking and feeling. As he speaks he is working out his problems and often the solutions begin to come to the person (they become clear in this process). At other times, people need additional perspective and help. “The key is to genuinely seek the welfare of the individual, to listen with empathy, to let the person get to the problem and the solution at his own pace and time.”
When you seek to understand, you see the problem/real issue from the person’s point of view. It is important not to interrupt or give a judgment whilst a person is sharing, remember create and maintain a safe environment. Now if the person asks for input you can give it. Or you can say, “I have a suggestion if you are interested, let me know if you want to hear it?” But remember, it’s not figuring them out based on your life story – you still need to pay attention to what the person says and does (rephrase content and reflect emotions).
Note: if you are unsure what the person (e.g. Dad) is saying, let him know what he is saying is important to you and you want to make sure you have understood correctly. Rephrase content and reflect feelings and then ask, “is that right?” If you haven’t understood he’ll let you know. This is important, because when we misunderstand each other (which is easy to do in communicating), it can cause problems. And a high percentage of relationship problems are due to poor communication.
We seek first to understand. Now let’s look at the second part…”then to be understood”. It is these two parts, in balance (equal parts) that help you reach win/win situations. Because when we truly understand each other, “we can open the door to creative solutions and alternatives.”
And remember if you are married, you are a team – and you are on the same team, not opposing sides (see healthy relationships 5). “Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage.”When we seek to be understood, we often focus on the logic of our ideas and convincing others why we are right.
But, instead we need to consider:
• Our character (personal credibility, integrity, competency, and the trust people place in us)
• Our relationships; and
• Then our logic
So this is the order:
• We seek to understand the other person and show respect (see healthy relationships 8) for their point of view.
• We don’t give an ‘it’s about me’ response. We consider the other person and their perspective.
• Then when it’s our turn to be understood, we speak firstly from personal credibility, integrity, competency and trustworthiness
• Then we speak from our relationship (the feeling that comes from aligning with the other person’s communication); and
• Lastly, we use our logic, our reasoning. Our original response would have been it’s an ‘about me’ response (all about my point of view, my experience, my logic and my right way). And we often learn, when we seek to understand first and then to be understood, our response may differ to our original response.
It’s Demo Day!
BUILD: Seek to understand first…then be understood
DEMOLISH: ‘it’s about me’ response
Stay connected to God:
“Our attaining of wisdom begins with our relationship with God; that wisdom grows as we draw closer to our Lord; and our relationship with Him deepens as we begin to know His nature and His ways. Therefore, revere and honour the Lord, His reproofs, instructions, and advice with humility, knowing that from these come wisdom and understanding.” Prayerfully read and meditate upon scriptures on who God is and on understanding Him and His ways. Here’s a couple to get you started:
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. John 17:3:
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.
• To reveal Himself to you as you seek to know Him through His word and prayer
• If you have any wrong or distorted views of His character and if so, ask Him to bring His truth, so you have a correct view of His character!
Stay connected to others:
• Pray God’s love will be in you flowing out to others. Ask God for His strength, wisdom, insight, patience, peace, understanding, and compassion as you demolish ‘it’s about me’ responses and build seeking first to understand… then be understood, in your life and relationships.
• Pray God would be the centre of your marriage and the centre of your home. Pray, His peace and truth would reign in your family. Pray that God would show you and lead you in His ways, with His truth and love.
• Pray your home will be filled with the Presence of God.
• Thank God for your “understanding strengths” (as you continue to work to keep them strong).
• Thank God for the people in your world and their “understanding strengths”.
• Thank God for the resources you have (e.g. His word) and the work of God (in your life and relationships) that will enable you to continue to build strong, healthy, satisfying, growing relationships with the people in your world.
• Pray God will help you grow in the areas of understanding that are out of balance in your life and out of balance in your relationships. Pray God will show you (and your loved ones), which elements/characteristics of understanding need nurturing and growth.
• Thank God for what He is going to do in your life and in your relationships!
Renovation process step one: DESIGN
God created you because He wanted to have a relationship with you.
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’”. Jeremiah 31:3
11 For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace and wellbeing and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call on Me and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear [your voice] and I will listen to you. 13 Then [with a deep longing] you will seek Me and require Me [as a vital necessity] and [you will] find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ says the Lord…’ Jeremiah 29:11-14a
God created you for healthy relationships. So it makes sense when we need guidance or help in our relationships, we go to the one Who:
1. Created us
2. Created us for healthy relationships
There is power in prayer; lives are changed because of prayer. When we pray, prayer first changes us.
“Praying not only affects us, it also reaches out and touches those for whom we pray. When we pray for others, we are asking God to make His Presence [known in] their lives and work powerfully on their behalf. That doesn’t always mean there will be an immediate response… But our prayers are never lost or meaningless. If we are praying, something is happening whether we can see it or not. The Bible says, ‘The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power].’ All that needs to happen in our lives cannot happen without the presence and power of God. Prayer invites and ignites both”
How do you pray for those closest to you (partner, children, friends, family, etc)? Derek Prince stated, “God loves it when you speak His word to Him”. You can use scripture to pray for your loved ones, for example:
• Pray God will guide their way – Proverbs 2:8 “For He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.”
• Ask God for wisdom for you and your partner, “If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
So dear one, as you build understanding in your relationships (and grow in understanding God’s ways), be encouraged as you pray, God is at work.
Renovation process step two: PLAN
Seek God for direction in His word, as you grow in understanding, for example:
“Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognise, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”
“Happy (blessed, fortunate, enviable) is the man who finds skillful and godly Wisdom, and the man who gets understanding [drawing it forth from God’s Word and life’s experiences].”
Proverbs 4:5a & 7
“Get skillful and godly Wisdom, get understanding (discernment, comprehension, and interpretation)… The beginning of Wisdom is: get Wisdom (skillful and godly Wisdom)! [For skillful and godly Wisdom is the principal thing.] And with all you have gotten, get understanding (discernment, comprehension, and interpretation).”
There is a right time to speak and a right time to be quiet.
“When there are many words, transgression and offense are unavoidable, But he who controls his lips and keeps thoughtful silence is wise.”
“The word, ‘edify’ is part of helping and it means to hold up or to promote growth in Christian wisdom, grace, virtue and holiness.
“So then, let us pursue [with enthusiasm] the things which make for peace and the building up of one another [things which lead to spiritual growth].”
Renovation process step three: CONSTRUCT
The following looks through the lens of marriage, but can be adapted for other relationships, e.g. friends, siblings, etc., because we all have differences, e.g. character, ways of thinking, upbringing, experiences, etc.
As mentioned at the beginning, understanding takes time to build. For your partner to understand you and vice versa, it requires both of you to open up and share, to reveal yourselves. What is revealed is based on each of you being able to trust each other, which is based on how well you know each other, which comes from what you share. You and your partner have value, worth and vulnerability. So make a safe environment your goal in communication and in your relationship, dear one!
Each of the four components (love, trust, respect and understanding) involves taking a risk, we have to step out and risk being vulnerable. If we don’t step out and risk being vulnerable, and share and reveal ourselves (e.g. heart, dreams, vulnerabilities, hurts, etc.) the four components will not work effectively. For example, how can you understand someone, if he/she doesn’t open up to you? Relationships do carry risk (you could be hurt), but to have a meaningful relationship, you have to take the risk. Lean on God for His wisdom. Make a safe environment your first goal, as it will set the foundation for your healthy relationships renovation!
We know there are differences between men and women. It’s no different when it comes to communication. But, both men and women want “their efforts to be recognised and valued. Appreciation is the best way to see the desired behaviour continue.” You want to set each other up for success! Build an environment where you value, respect, appreciate, accept and love each other as you grow in understanding. Demolish criticism, judgment, humiliation, lack of acceptance and lack of appreciation. If the team wins, you both win!
Let’s reframe how we look at our differences. God made man and woman to compliment each other, not compete with each other. Instead of getting frustrated with each other’s differences and saying to each other, ‘you just don’t understand.’ Work at seeking first to understandand then to be understood. Think about a time where your differences were used to compliment each other and what you were able to achieve. Your differences can add value, because you probably have different ways of looking at things, and you both bring different strengths to help each other as you do life together.
Realise and accept you both look at things differently. There are exceptions to the rule of the examples in this section (which relate to personality types). The examples are not to create division, but for us to be aware of differences. We need to be aware of and appreciate the differences so we can effectively seek to first understand… and then be understood. This section is just a tool, to provide you with examples of differences, so you and your partner have a beginning point to discuss differences. Ask your partner what he/she would appreciate you knowing and taking into account as you both communicate, problem solve, talk about feelings, etc? And share with your partner what you would appreciate him/her knowing and taking into account, as you both communicate, problem solve, talk about feelings, etc?
God created us as beings that experience emotions – they are an important part of life. Generally speaking, women are quick to talk about their feelings – they want to be heard (it helps to make them feel better) and men are quick to want to do something to fix the problem (it helps to make them feel better). One way isn’t better than the other, nor is one right and the other wrong. They are just different approaches because God made men and women different – we are wired differently. And because men and women are wired differently (brain), they may need different time frames for processing how they feel about things. Additionally, women tend to have more feeling words in their vocabulary. What does this mean for your relationship? Allow time for both you and your partner to process how you each feel about things. And be aware your processing time will probably differ – allow each other the time that is needed. If your man (or it could be your wife) finds it tricky to talk about his feelings, it could be helpful to ask him, “What is your reaction to that?” Rather than asking, “What are you feeling?” And if you or your partner finds it difficult to discuss emotions, ask about what considerations would help you/your partner when you discuss feelings?
Let’s hit the pause button for a moment, think of something you find tricky to do, now think of a time your partner stepped in and helped you – how did you feel? I can imagine you were grateful! When we know and understand our differences, we begin to work together and learn to compliment each other, rather than compete with each other. For example, your partner may take more time to process information than you. Give your partner the time he/she needs, rather than pressuring your partner for an answer while he/she is still processing.
Let’s take the example of problem solving. Again, generally speaking, women tend to create an overview, to reach a solution, whereas men tend to break down the problem into linear steps to reach a solution. And you may both end up with the same solution, but you took different routes and time frames to get there. Learn and appreciate your differences, give each other time, so that you can work on understanding each other. Realise you may complete the steps of problem solving differently. If your partner takes longer to go through the steps of problem solving than you do, let your partner complete the steps in problem solving (just like you were able to do – imagine what’s it’s like when you are trying to problem solve and someone is talking to you about all the different elements when you haven’t got there yet). Once your partner has completed the steps in problem solving, then you both can talk through the problem and it’s possible solutions. And if your partner solves problems differently to you, take this into account as you problem solve together (seek first to understand…then be understood), and you may find that with both your viewpoints considered, you come up with a different more complete solution than your original idea!
Let’s take a little look at communication, “in conversation, [women] can link theological, emotional, relational and spiritual aspects of the issue.” For women, these links are naturally made and women can jump from one conversation to another, but this isn’t how a man is wired, again, it’s not that one is good and another bad, it’s just God made men and women different. Remember, the point is working on understanding each other, recognising you are a team, and that you compliment each other, not compete with each other. Instead of you or you partner saying, ‘you don’t understand.’ Help each other out as you seek first to understand…and then be understood.
Well, that’s it, dear one! I want to say, “thankyou”! I appreciate the time you have given to read this series! I pray it will bless you and those in your world as you put it into action!! As you take this journey and work on yourself and your relationships, be encouraged dear one, prayer changes realities – God can do amazing things! Stay plugged into Him. And, if you are starting this healthy relationships reno on your own…know this dear one, you aren’t alone, God is with you!
All the best as you create a safe environment and continue on the journey using the ‘tools’ of love, trust, respect and understanding to help you build and maintain strong healthy relationships!