1. Seek to listen to the other person: they will tell you what they don’t understand. This is one of the hardest things to do, because most people only want to “fix it fast”. Sometimes there is not a fast fix. Sometimes what looks like a fast fix, is only a temporary reprieve. If you will really learn to listen to the other person, it puts you in a more receptive state of mind. Active listening engages parts of your will, which help facilitate cooperation, trust, and concern for the other person. It requires your will, and discipline, because sometimes it is hard to listen to things that are upsetting. Active listening is, in fact, an act of love.
Do not think you can listen long enough to dismantle the other person’s argument. That is not listening at all. You must listen, openly and patiently, so you can really understand them. Listening to win an argument will never help you understand the other person, let alone care for them. Quite the contrary. On the other hand, if you listen with a teachable heart, then you will be well on your way toward understanding the other and being understood yourself.
2. Ask questions: this helps you identify your own faults. Asking honest questions, without a bad attitude or an agenda, is a part of active listening. When you are being misunderstood, you are more likely to misunderstand the other person, so, in order to gain clarity, asking good questions is paramount. Negative emotions often well up, when we are being misunderstood. Some of these are normal and natural, but some of them are a product of our personal brokenness. Men and women often handle misunderstandings differently. Every relationship (couples, friendships, bonds of affection between siblings) are different, because no two people respond exactly identically to the same stimuli.
Asking questions helps you zero in, not only on the point of confusion, but on the personality makeup of the other person. Once again, to help the other person better understand you, you had better work at understanding them. Often times, misunderstandings grow out of two unlike people seeing the world only through their own personal lenses. Not only does asking questions help you understand the other, it helps you escape your narrow focus and gain a new perspective.
3. Refine your particulars: After listening, and seeking to understand the other person, you will have clarity of mind to respond with grace. Now that you have heard the other out, and have asked questions to help you better understand them, you can restate your points in a better, more others centered way. Having listened, you will now own the right to be heard. Having asked questions, you are now equipped to tailor your response specifically to their needs.
Personally, I try to speak my peace, 2 or 3 different ways, using different words, expressions, and examples. I have a high need to be understood, so I take responsibility for the other person, and attempt to state my points as many different ways as possible. I must do this without getting angry! In any dispute, I must take responsibility for my own emotions. No one has the power to “make me angry”, because my emotions belong to me; and they must not rule over me, but I must rule over them.
4. Agree, when you can: This builds trust and shows a commitment to moving forward. If, the other person makes a valid point or dismantles a part of your argument, you must recognize and admit this. Sometimes I have been in a heated debate, and my assertions end up falling apart. Now I’m left with the decision to swallow my pride and give way to the truth of what they are saying, or double down and try to save face. The former will result in manifold benefits to me (conflict resolution, humility, seeing the truth, replacement of bad feelings with good ones). Whereas the latter will lead me deeper into the misunderstanding which caused the relational rift in the first place.
I make it a priority to agree with the other person’s arguments, when and where I can. For me, it is not a tactic, it is merely assenting to the truth, when the truth is plainly evident. I want to be on the side of truth, and, incidentally, the truth is usually on the side of reconciliation. I try to affirm the other person’s feelings, even if I cannot see the logic in their arguments or the reasonableness of their critiques. Often times, I must make the mental effort to see past their arguments, which may or may not be cogent, in order to empathize with their pain. I say, “I hear what you are saying, and I want to protect your heart from having those bad feelings, so I will do thus and thus…”.
5. Tell the other how much you love, respect, and value them: If they feel cherished, they will try harder to reconcile. A good way to get the other person to understand you, is if they perceive that you really do care about them. There’s the old saw, “People won’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” But, there is a lot of wisdom in that simple axiom. Mutual love and appreciation for the other will tear down any barriers of misunderstanding, or at least it will render the barriers inconsequential. Even if a mutual understanding cannot be reached, the power of loving friendship overcomes the dissonance a squabble may produce.
I have found that I can disagree with someone, who really cares about me, and the disagreement is no longer an issue between us. No two people can ever hope to perfectly understand each other, but they can love and trust each other. And, that love and trust, renders all misunderstandings as small affairs of no account. It is really a beautiful thing that being in right relationship is actually more important, and gets us further down the road, than being in perfect agreement. Simply affirming to the other person that our failure to reach a common consensus will not hinder our good relationship will close the gap on the very disagreement which made the affirmation a necessity.
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.