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“Seek first to understand.”


“Seek first to understand” is a reminder that can be used across all facets of life.  In many cases, especially in the middle of an argument, we are more likely to try to force our point of view onto the other person in an all out effort for them to understand what we are saying and why we are right.  It is rare in a heated argument where people are taking turns explaining their concerns, and trying to fully understand what the other person is feeling.  

When two people argue, and are really mad, anger is simply the gut feeling, the expression of another feeling they are experiencing.  It could be sadness, disappointment, or fear.  Unfortunately, many people lash out with an argument rather than what they are truly feeling.  Instead of trying to fight back, get angry and into an all out yelling match, why not first “seek to understand.”

It’s easy to get on the offensive when you feel like you are being attacked, but why not try to understand the other person?  Know that anger is only a byproduct of what they are really feeling, so try to figure that out first.  Try to understand why the person is so upset.  If you pay close attention to an argument between two people, you will be able to see this dynamic at work.  You will see each person show anger and see frustration grow as they joust back and forth trying to make the other understand them.

A Classic Example

You find out, through a mutual friend, that your best friend went out for a night on the town with another friend and didn’t invite you.  You immediately think, “What the hell…I always invite her out with me.”  You immediately feel hurt and start to give your friend a cold shoulder.  After a few days of the cold shoulder, your friend finally asks why you have been so cold.  You exclaim how you can’t believe she didn’t invite you out when you always invite her out.  Your friend then explains that her other friend just broke up with her boyfriend and really asked for some one on one time to talk.  Considering this, an invite was not extended to you.  Well, now you feel like a horse’s ass.  Jumping to conclusions about what happened caused anger, frustration, and hurt over a few days.  Had you simply asked your friend why you were not invited and that it hurt your feelings, you could have avoided days of unhappiness.  Ask questions.  “Seek first to understand.”

Road Rage

Another example occurs when you are driving.  The guy in front of you is driving the speed limit or a little slower.  You are in a hurry…just because.  You begin to call this guy names, get angry, feel your blood pressure rising.  You are probably thinking about how inconsiderate this person is, or that they don’t have a life.  Let’s just say you are not in a place of happiness.  This is where I challenge you to “seek first to understand.”  I try to run through scenarios of why someone would drive slow.  Perhaps they are old and are nervous driving, but had no choice.  Perhaps it is a new father and mother bringing their first child home from the hospital.  Perhaps them driving this slow is God’s way of keeping you from an accident down the road.  These possibilities give me a different level of understanding helping me to avoid getting angry.

Another Thing to Think About

Try to become more interested in understanding others and less in having others understand you.  By becoming more interested in understanding others and giving them your full attention, you really get a good grasp of what they are saying.  Too many times we are preoccupied with how we feel, or what we want to say than to listen to the person we are talking to.  By becoming more interested in understanding people, you will become a better listener.  People will love talking to you and look forward to seeing you when you go out.  Everyone loves to talk about themselves, so let them.  Try to understand what makes them click.  This way you can be a better friend.


Whether it’s an argument or just a conversation, don’t try to force the other person to understand your side first.  Instead, become more interested in understanding the other person’s point of view and feelings.  Try to understand the true feelings that are behind what they are saying.  Find out why their feelings are hurt.  Find out why they are angry or yelling.  When you can understand the true underlying feelings, you can quickly turn an argument into a learning experience on how to avoid hurting that person again, in a similar way.  Once you identify that underlying feeling, you can apologize for having caused that feeling, and explain how you were not trying to hurt them in that way.  The road to healing begins with understanding, so seek first to understand rather than being understood.

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