A Hebrew proverb states:
Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
When you look into a pool of deep water, you can see the shift from clear to shadowy to pitch black. The deeper it is, the less you can discern what lies in the depths below. There could be an incredible ecosystem that is unobservable from the surface. There could be great beauty. However, unless you take time to dive into that expanse, it will remain a mystery.
Consider this in the context of your life. The people around you have numerous thoughts, ideas and insights. Adopting a mindset of seeking to understand will help you pull the counsel of others to the surface.
This will aid you when collaborating with others to find solutions to practical problems and when resolving relational issues. You will also be fulfilling a need within others to be understood which will strengthen your relationship with team members, people in your community, and those you call family.
Drawing Ideas Out From Others
When you are listening to what someone is sharing and provide questions that allow the person speaking to fully explain their idea, you help create a synergistic environment. You are the diver who goes into murky waters, finds something valuable and then drags it up to the surface where it can be understood and shared with others. If you choose to do so, you may be surprised with what you find.
Consider a different scenario. How often do you come to others thinking you know their motivations, thoughts and feelings? Maybe it’s because they did something or made a decision that you didn’t like. Oftentimes, this will backfire and not result in a positive resolution of the issue.
In WinShape Teams experiences, we teach that a servant leader is compelled by an unshakeable desire to enrich the lives of others. What does a servant leader look like when he or she is compelled by the unshakeable desire to seek to understand others?
Next time you have a frustration, concern, thought, or beneficial piece of feedback, go to the person and seek to understand everything you can. Thank them for their time, and then evaluate that information before you give your response to the situation. Approach them with a heart that is willing to change based on the new information you are about to gather. This is a process that should be continually employed.
01. Identify the Problem & the Stakeholders of the Situation
What is your team trying to solve or what are you frustrated about? Who is being affected by this issue?
02. Question Your View of Reality
What are the facts of the situation? What can be objectively observed?
Next, look at the subjective aspects. What are you inferring from past experiences and your knowledge of others? Do you need to further explore your subjective clues?
03. Formulate Good Questions
When you find an area that needs further exploration — whether objective or subjective — take a moment to formulate good questions.
Effective inquiries usually start with “what” or “how”. This ensures the questions are open-ended and come across more smoothly than a “why” question.
You can help people open up more by following up with additional inviting questions. “Anything else you would like to share?”, “Would you tell me more?”, “Do you have any more thoughts?”, and “Would you tell me a bit about your thoughts/feelings/process?” can be great ways to give the other person permission to be honest and share something they might not have initially had the courage to say. It conveys genuine interest in understanding them.
Does this word make you cringe? Do you feel the need to fill quiet spaces with words?
Your capacity to embrace silence correlates to your ability to listen and draw thoughts and ideas out of a person. During this process, silence is your friend. Don’t be afraid to give the speaker space to think and formulate a response.
05. Be very frugal with offering your own thoughts and perspective.
This could cause the person to shift to addressing your thoughts or to adopt your perspective, especially if you are in a position of authority relative to them.
Two Barriers to Understanding
This process can be simple to understand and seem easy to execute, but I think that as you embark on your journey towards understanding others, you will very quickly confront some obstacles that can derail you.
01. Focusing on Being Understood More Than on Understanding Others
As humans, most of us will agree that one of our deepest needs is to be known, loved and understood by others. We want to be seen and valued. This can lead us to focus on being understood more than on understanding others. We can have a subconscious belief that we have to be seen and heard in order to provide value and be valued.
However, servant leaders are comfortable with others’ voices being heard before and even instead of their own. They speak out of desire to build others up, not to build themselves up. Can you be content with your ideas not being seen and heard every time? Not because you fear to speak and devalue your ideas, but because you have listened to others speak, have allowed their view to inform your opinion and then you have chosen to speak only if your idea has not been conveyed.
02. Assuming You Already Understand
It’s easy to slip into operating under the assumption that you already understand someone, which leads to thoughts like, “That’s just the way they are” or “That’s what they always do.” You can fall prey to the Fundamental Attribution Error. This means that you attribute other’s actions to their character, but your actions to your circumstances.
For example, if your coworker is late it must be because they are lazy and unorganized. If you are late, you tell yourself it is because of unforeseen and unpreventable events like traffic, your sick child etc. You approach this person with the assumption that you can fit their behavior into your picture of them and there is no need for further exploration.
Sometimes this tendency to prematurely judge others can be exacerbated by your instinct to go off of whatever is most recent in your memory and easiest to recall.
Another situation where we tend to forget to seek understanding is when we are coming up with solutions, goals or the direction for our team. After brainstorming about a situation, you might think you have already heard all the angles or you have it figured out and don’t need another perspective. You can find yourself walking into meetings totally confident that the solution you are about to present is the best one and you have to convince everyone else to think that way as well.
Practice will make you better.
A servant leader can be compelled by their unshakeable desire to enrich the lives of others by seeking to understand them.
It starts in the heart with a genuine curiosity about others and a willingness to learn. This flows into a behavior of pulling counsel and information from others.
By identifying the problem, questioning your view point, and then using well crafted questions to invite input from others, you can start to understand those around you in a deeper way than you have before. This will make your relationships richer and your decisions wiser.
I challenge you to have one conversation a day for the next week with someone where your only goal is to seek to understand. This could be as simple as asking a coworker about their vacation or as hard as asking your child why they dislike a class in school. You will most likely be surprised by how much you learn from others and how much they will open up to you when you seek to understand them. Happy diving!