Just a Little Understanding

It’s hard to watch television these days without getting the sense that “true understanding” is in reasonably short supply in many circles in our country. However, several things I have read over the years have led me to the conclusion that one of the most critical traits of really successful people is an open mind. The statement, “The mind doesn’t work unless it’s open” has been drilled into many of us over our life time yet I would venture to say that many of us have found ourselves in recent months with anything but a truly open mind.

One of the most powerful things I have ever seen written was in a technology newsletter about communication. The gist of the article was that the goal of effective communication is not persuasion, but rather, understanding. People do not want to communicate with us or be persuaded by us unless we have an open mind. Yet we too often want to find fault with others without really knowing them well or truly understanding their position.

While I can’t recall the author, I read a quote many years ago that has stuck with me to this day, “One practice that could change the world is for everyone to simply, stop finding fault.”  Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree with others or their ideas but our disagreement is best done with a detailed understanding of the situation, person and issue. Far too often we find fault with a scant understanding of these three things. And to make matters worse, our discontent is often expressed in an unhealthy, disrespectful way. I have found that is not the way to persuade or to change most anything.

If we want to change someone’s point of view, we need to fully seek to understand why they hold those beliefs and we need to be effective at communicating.  And that means being understanding and exhibiting an open mind with our actions so that we have the ability to truly understand others.

Every issue likely will have more than one point of view and one solution. As leaders or sales people, we need to have an open mind and seek true understanding of our customers. In my experience, when we are slow to judge others or the way they think but quick to ask relevant questions that explore fully the situation or beliefs the customer holds, we are far more likely to be great at communicating.

No one said it better than Stephen Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, when he wrote, “Seek first to understand then be understood.” I believe these principle can greatly help both our business and personal relationships and our world, especially today, could use a little more of it.