“Why do I feel I am often misunderstood?” asked the inquisitive student to the reticent Master. The Master as usual smiled first before replying and said, “there is nothing called misunderstanding. Either one understands or one doesn’t.”
“But then why do we call it misunderstanding?” asked the student. “Because we don’t want to admit that we have not understood at all”, said the Master. “We would rather suppose our understanding is always correct and perfect until proved otherwise, and then we call that a misunderstanding. Whereas the truth is we had not understood at all in the first place.”
“I did not understand that,” said the student. The Master smiled again and said, “that’s the correct way of putting it, rather than assuming you did, and later clarifying it was a misunderstanding.” He continued, “We think we understand because we evaluate based on our frame of reference, but in reality we don’t understand because we don’t listen well enough.”
“Most often when we appear to be listening, we are actually framing our response or reply in our mind. So we listen to reply rather than listen to understand” said the Master. “So I am listening to you now, but should I not be interrupting then with questions that come in my mind?” asked the student.
“Of course you can. I am not talking about questions that come in our mind, but the answers we want to give even before we understand” said the Master smilingly. “A dialogue is a flow of meaning between two people. We need to allow that flow to happen and not obstruct it. Questions to seek clarification guide that flow, but those to probe or evaluate restrict it” said the Master.
“Also listening is not just hearing. It is paying attention and so mostly it is done through eyes” said the Master. “So it is important to fix our eyes on what we want to listen or else we can get distracted. If we give attention like that and listen with an open mind, – not to judge, interpret, evaluate or probe, we can understand better. But more importantly we make the person communicating to us feel understood.”
“Does it apply to all forms of communication?” asked the student. “Yes” said the Master. “It applies even to non-verbal communication, so why not to other forms. In the case of written communication as in through mails, chats, and other forms of written words, you have an additional advantage of re-reading until you understand even before you jump to reply” said the Master.
“If it is that simple to understand, then why is it so difficult to practise?” asked the student. The Master said “Because we want first to be heard and understood even before we understand. Also we think if we try to understand, we may tend to agree with the other person so will give away our view or position. It need not be so as understanding does not mean you are agreeing to the other person. It only means you have understood his or her point.”
“So you mean to say I should first try to understand before to be understood?” asked the inquisitive student. “Habit 5 of Covey’s 7 Habits. Always, seek first to understand, before to be understood. Not only do you make the other person feel he or she is understood fully that way, many times you may not even require to be understood, let alone being misunderstood” said the reticent Master, smilingly.