Seek first to understand, then to be understood. — Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey explains that seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. He’s not wrong on this one.
Every human being desires to feel seen, heard, and understood.
So, how do we create space for this real understanding?
We can ask an effective question.
“Why?” is a common default for many of us, and my personal habit. It slices right into to the muscle of motivation and reason; it reveals how people think and what influences them.
But Why? can come across as judgmental, even if not intended as such. Tone is very important. Also, why? doesn’t always get to the heart of our felt experience.
We need a question that can more effectively open the door to deeply understanding other people and their experience. Here’s an suggestion:
What’s it like?
In the context of current world events, we can ask black people and people of color:
What’s it like to be a black person in America?
What’s it like to be a person of color in America?
In the context of better understanding our mind/body/emotion connection we can ask ourselves:
What does it feel like in my body right now?
What’s it like? reminds us that each of us experiences the world differently. It creates space for others to feel seen, heard, and understood.