I’ve posted a lot about the effectiveness of making people feel understood to leading them. It increases your ability to influence them and makes them feel good. It also resolves a lot of arguments.
Why does it feeling understood feel so good? Sometimes I describe it in seminars as close to feeling loved and no one has objected.
Why does feeling misunderstood feel so bad? I’ve joked in seminars how if you want to break up with someone but can’t bring yourself to do it, you only have to intentionally misunderstand them. Do it consistently for long enough and they’ll break up with you. No one has ever disagreed, feeling something true in it.
I expect the more deeply you understand the answers to these questions, the better you’ll make people feel and the more they’ll appreciate your leadership.
I’ve come up with an answer that seems simple, maybe too simple. The only reason we communicate in the first place is for others to understand us. If we feel motivated to talk in the first place, we feel motivated to feel understood. If someone doesn’t understand us, they thwart our motivation. We still feel it, but we haven’t achieved our goal. It seems a simple goal to us—after all, we understand ourselves—so others should understand us easily.
When we try to repeat ourselves, if they keep misunderstanding us, frustration builds. Now we both want to be understood and to teach them a lesson. Typically this happens when they are trying to make us understand them, leading both parties to talk past each other, spiraling out of control.
That self-reinforcing system of mutual escalation, misunderstanding, and frustration explains why feeling misunderstood feels so bad.
As for feeling understood, feeling understood on something unimportant doesn’t feel that great. If I say “What’s one plus one?” I don’t feel remarkably good when someone responds “two.” I feel great when I share a vulnerability and don’t get judged.
I think feeling understood feels as good as the depth of the vulnerability shared. That’s why my exercise in “How to make someone feel understood: the Confirmation Cycle” works so well and makes people feel so good. It asks about a passion, meaning a vulnerability, and then makes them feel understood about it. You get to a deep vulnerability. You feel supported when someone simply confirms their understanding.
I can see why feeling supported on a deep vulnerability feels like being loved. It’s sad we live in a world where few people put your interest before theirs even for a few minutes to make you feel understood. At least you can do it for them.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book