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Seek First To Understand

How can you be happy? Simple – seek first to understand. We all want to be heard. We want to be understood. Validated. Here’s the problem. There are too many that need to be understood and not enough people to understand. It’s a lost art.

I fall short in this area, but recently, I did truly seek to understand someone. It had amazing results for both parties. Usually, I say, yeah, yeah, I get it – especially when I’m talking to my wife. I do actually “get it,” in that I hear what she’s saying, but I usually follow it with a “but.”

In other words, my “get it” is biased with my own agenda, my own wants, needs, desires. I’m not truly understanding what’s being said from the other person’s perspective. I have gotten much better at this with my wife – lots of practice!

Back to the recent success. I was interviewing a friend about atheism for HolisticFaith – see The Truth About Atheists And Believers. It was a great interview. One, my friend is an amazing guy. Two, I was able to disconnect from my agenda and absorb my friend’s perspective. I did catch myself wanting to counter some points, but I pushed them aside, and went back to listening.

So how does seeking first to understand make us happy? Think of it this way. When we walk in someone’s shoes  – when we understand their thoughts and how they were derived from their perspective – we make a powerful connection. When we’re connected, we’re happy. If we all just run around trying to be heard and understood, we’ll sound like the pelicans in Nemo – Mine! Mine! Mine!

Below is my friend’s response to the article, unedited (I have permission to reprint it). I should point out that my friend was not seeking to be understood. I asked him for the interview because I know an interesting story when I see one. The point is that the connection still occurred, and the result was beyond both our expectations.


Where to begin!?!?

I received and read this [article link above] last night, just as I was heading up to bed. I sat and read it. Then, I paused, and I read it again.

I brought my computer upstairs, into the bathroom where my girlfriend was brushing her teeth. Then, I read it aloud to her.

I’m flabbergasted. Gobsmacked. Entirely, positively stunned.

You got it. You 100%, totally understood everything I was saying. But truthfully, I sort of expected *that* part. You’re an attentive, thoughtful listener, with a passion and a desire to communicate effectively.

What I *didn’t* expect is that you would, more than a week later, be able to communicate so effectively the extremely subtle positions that we were discussing. You *not only* “got it”, you digested the subtlety, retained it over time, and then spun it around and reformulated it for popular consumption in a way that is truly, wonderfully impressive!

Your attention to detail is more than impressive. Your ability to listen authentically astonishes me. I felt “heard”, and that’s not something I say often. I stretch to think of the last time, in fact, that I feel as if I was genuinely heard on this topic, with this level of philosophical subtlety, to the depth that you’ve understood me. I do not exaggerate when I say that tears came to my eyes as I read and reread your article.

Of course, you were very flattering in your article as well, which made me blush just a little bit, and for which I’m grateful and thank you.

But, wow! Ted! I know that you were jotting down notes on the computer while we chatted, but I don’t think that you typed *that* much. What you’ve written comes not from a mere referencing of notes taken during a meeting. It comes from a genuine connection and listening-in-the-moment.

I think that your own journey, your own advanced education on the topic, your attention to detail and desire to truly connect have made your recitation of my position, and the communication of your own message, crystal clear. It’s an impressive piece, and I’m grateful that I could play a role in it.

Thank you. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for sharing. And most of all, thank you for listening. Listening in a way that is far too uncommon these days.

Would you mind if I shared the article with my Facebook community?



I was not seeking this response, or expecting it. But I couldn’t help thinking, imagine if we all just listened, and understood. I also couldn’t help feeling happy. Seeking first to understand brought two seemingly-at-odds people closer together. That’s just cool!

Thanks for reading this,
~ Ted Olson


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