To understand and be understood

"But that's not what I meant!" When communication fails, we can feel quite helpless. Our inner desire to understand others and to be understood paves the way to avoid or resolve conflict. But it’s not always easy.

Text by Mathias Maul


Image: © AleksandarGeorgiev/

The mental tool I’d like to discuss today is more of an attitude. Our innate desire to understand and to be understood helps us to communicate effectively with others and with ourselves. The following example illustrates this well: A colleague told me about a conflict that needed to be resolved in a team that had reached a communicative logjam. After investigating, the cause was found: In their meetings, chats, emails, and tickets, team members gave quick and solution-focused responses, but often not to what was meant, but to what they thought they understood.

Driven by the need for speed, team members reacted without taking the time to truly understand their counterparts. Their communication partners, in turn, reacted with irritation, stress, or even anger because they had to waste valuable time providing an explanation that appeared superfluous to them. "I have already clearly stated ...