Seek to Understand

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

 

I was having one of “those days.” I was on edge, frustrated and couldn't seem to get anything to go my way. I got a call from my wife, she wanted to talk. I stopped what I was doing and we talked. I asked her to hang on for a second so I could order some food at a drive-thru. After 30 seconds of ordering, I grabbed the phone and she was gone. It was then that I became emotionally hijacked. I called her back. No answer. I called her again and again. Still no answer. I sent her a text explaining that I only had a few minutes to talk, and to call me back if she wanted to. She called back and I lost it. Not immediately, but enough to recognize that I had crossed a line.

Emotional Intelligence is one of those hot topics right now. It’s re-emerging as a key piece of being an effective leader, executive, coach, spouse and parent.

Essentially every part of your life relationally. One of the biggest components of relationship management under the emotional intelligence umbrella is seeking to understand.

Seeking to understand is one of life’s most valuable relationship lessons. It is the term used to describe how we should be in all situations with others. Rather than assuming, justifying, or pretending to know, we should seek to understand another person’s position, context, feelings, emotions and opinion, before we act or react. In moments of tension, it becomes increasingly important to pause and seek to understand.

Last week, I got a call from a sales person requesting to work for a new leader. She refused to confront her leader and sit down over coffee to explain her feelings that had led her to request a transfer. The leader had been brash in some dealings with this person, and frankly, made only some minor missteps. Enough of these instances had been strung together to lead to this request. In this relational example, both parties never paused to seek to understand the position, feelings and situation of the other. Over a period of months, the tension built between them to the point that one of them wouldn’t even entertain coffee with the other. After some dialogue and tough moments, the rep agreed to sit down and discuss her feelings. She also acknowledged how she might have played a more significant role in their tension as well. After a couple of hours together, they resumed a strong working relationship. They agreed to pick up the phone to talk through high stress topics and get off of email. A tool that left many things misinterpreted in the previous few months.

As leaders, parents and people, we all have hot buttons. The things that get to us. We get to that place where we are less in control and more impulsive and full of tension. In moments of high stress or anxiety, it is even more important (and oftentimes difficult) to seek to understand another person's perspective. Whether it be a nagging teammate, our peers, our boss, or a client, people deserve to be understood before we judge, respond, or comment. I’ve learned that when I remember to do this, the outcome of the situation is positive and when I don’t, it’s negative.  

When my wife called me back, I was inappropriate in my response. Had I pushed pause, asked her why she hung up and could not answer her phone, I might have learned that she had just been in a car accident.  Understanding her position might have changed the way I reacted. Instead of being a caring, loving, concerned husband (like I claim to be), I skipped over the seek to understand step and assumed. So, I had a wife who was in a wreck, called her husband back and got berated over nothing of importance.  

This story illustrates this point to an extreme. The truth is, learning to seek to understand one another is useful in every scenario. At church, a BBQ, a first date, in disciplining your child, communicating with your team, arguing with the finance team, even in evaluating yourself and how you handled a situation. Seeking to understand is one of the most useful tools in relationship management.  

Here are 3 simple steps in Seeking to Understand:

  • Ask - Inquire about the other person’s viewpoint, perspective, opinion, context. Be inquisitive. Using words such as Why, How and What are helpful in ascertaining the root of their perspective.
  • Listen - This one is difficult for some of us. Don’t ask a question just to ask. Really listen to their response. Stay engaged and you will likely learn something that will help you digest their response more fully.
  • Digest - Take a moment to consider their position. Don’t respond immediately. Sometimes, really digesting the response someone gives allows you to see something you may not otherwise see.  

Relationships are the fuel of everything we know. We all desire authentic relationships with people who care about us. We want to be respected and also liked. If we all took the time to seek to understand one another’s positions, in everyday moments and those filled with tension, the world would be a better place.

Today I encourage you to push pause, ask, listen, digest, and THEN respond. It will make your relationships stronger than they have ever been before. 
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Vince Lombardo is the Chief Sales Officer for Heartland, where he has served in a leadership role for over 15 years. Heartland is a group of entrepreneurs respectfully serving entrepreneurs who care about the work they do and who they do it for by focusing on the customer’s present and future needs, cultivating quality relationships and providing the best payments, payroll, point-of-sale, customer engagement and lending products to businesses across the country.