“It is better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.”
— Anatole France
Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Personal Commentary:
Imagine this. You’re the office manager, and you have one administrative assistant who habitually leaves five minutes early. If this assistant did not do such an excellent job you would have spoken to her. But now your resentment has built to the point where you can no longer ignore her behavior. You feel compelled to speak your mind.
You call the assistant into your office and ask if she has an explanation. She says, “Yes, I am the sole support of three small children. The woman who cares for them must leave at 5:45. If I get the 5:00 bus I get home at 5:45. If I don’t catch that bus, the next bus doesn’t get me home until 6:30. I can’t have three small children unattended for forty-five minutes. I didn’t want to mention it because I was afraid of losing my job.”
How do you feel? Upset, angry, and irritated? Not if you’re like one of the office managers who recently shared that story with me at my on-site program, “The Relationship Recipe: Rapport, Respect, And Recognition.” With his new-found understanding of his employee, he promptly made special arrangements with the company for her to leave five minutes early and make up the time on special occasions.
Unfortunately, judgment — rather than understanding — seems to come all too naturally and all too quickly for so many of us. We carry an imaginary measuring stick, automatically judging everything and everyone around us. And if others don’t act the way we think they should, we get upset.
Well, that is NOT THE WAY to effective communication or productive relationships. Understanding IS THE WAY.
In fact, conflict starts when understanding stops. That being the case, how can you become a more understanding individual or leader?
1. Recognize the power of understanding.
Although it takes many different skills to build a team or a relationship, there is no skill any more important than your ability to understand the other person or other people. That’s very obvious in sales, for example.
In one six-month study of sales people, there was only one significant difference between the top and bottom 10%. The bottom 10% talked an average of 33 minutes per presentation while the top 10% talked only 12 minutes. It’s convincing proof that if you want to get along with others … if you want others to go along with you … you don’t “talk them into it.” You listen and understand.
Christina and Michel Noury from Mora Engineering learned that when they attended my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program about 3 years ago. As Christina later wrote, “The key to survival in relationships or even in the wilderness is UNDERSTANDING.”
2. Withhold judgment.
Certainly, there is a time for discernment and judgment, but in interpersonal relationships … withhold judgment until comprehension is complete. In simple terms, don’t pass judgment until you have all the facts. Don’t jump to conclusions.
As one person said, “The only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions, running down their friends, side-stepping responsibility, and pushing their luck!” Again, that is NOT the way to effective communication or productive relationships.
3. When in doubt, check it out.
One of the quickest ways to reach understanding is to say, “I don’t understand.” Or ask questions. It’s far better to appear stupid than remain stupid.
For example, when I first got married, I had no idea that males and females had different meanings for the same word. When my wife said she wanted to go out and “buy” a new couch, I automatically assumed, when we walked into a furniture store that we were there to buy a couch at that store at that moment. I had no idea that “buying” a couch was preceded by several weeks of “shopping” before any purchase was going to be made.
It doesn’t mean that either one of us was “wrong”. We simply had different definitions for the words “buy” or “buying.” So when in doubt, check it out. After all, we all view life through different lenses.
4. Be gentle.
Some people are not easy to like. Their behaviors are just plain obnoxious and offensive.
And you don’t have to like everyone or approve of everything they do. That would be ludicrous. But you may have to live, work, or get along with those people.
One way to do that is to UNDERSTAND that all difficult behavior comes from a lack of self-esteem or a lack of skill. If the other person felt better about himself, or if the other person knew how to behave more appropriately, he would do better. So be a little bit more gentle in your judgments and a little bit more generous with your encouragement.
It was a lesson one lady learned from her taxi driver on the way to the airport. She said, “We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his breaks, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches!”
“The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy, and I mean he was really friendly. So I asked, ‘Why did you just do that? That guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!'”
“That is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck.’ He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they’ll dump it on you. Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.”
The bottom line is that successful people don’t let other people’s garbage become their destiny. They love the people who treat them right and pray for the ones who don’t.
Finally, to become a more UNDERSTANDING person,
5. Look for the learning.
Everyone you have ever met or will meet has a lesson for you. And you can learn that lesson IF … you’re wise enough to slow down, listen, and understand … INSTEAD of rushing to a stereotypical judgment. As one of the wisest men of the 19th century, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”
A corporate Vice President told me that he used to get upset with people and behavior that didn’t fit his expectations. He said, “I now believe the other person is there to teach me something. Perhaps they’re there to teach me a lesson in patience or teach me a new way of seeing things. It is my job to learn rather than judge.”
One of the best, quickest, and easiest ways to improve your relationships on and off the job is to increase your ability to understand other people. After all, people yearn for understanding just like a flower yearns for the sun. Give the gift of understanding, and watch people blossom.
Catch yourself and then stop yourself when you’re rushing toward judgment. Ask a few questions instead to increase your understanding.
Make it a 10 in 2010!
Dr. Alan Zimmerman
“©2010 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Internet newsletter, the ‘Tuesday Tip.’ For your own personal, free subscription to the ‘Tuesday Tip’ as well as information on Dr. Zimmerman’s keynotes and seminars, go to http://www.drzimmerman.com/ or call 800-621-7881.