When dealing with others, seek first to understand, then to be understood. That requires an attitude of flexibility and teachability. Theologian Hans Küng observed, “Understanding someone properly involves learning from him, and learning from someone properly involves changing oneself.” Understanding other people means extending yourself to them and meeting them on their level. You have to put the burden of making a connection on yourself, not on them.
It’s also wise to remember the words of inventor Charles Kettering: “There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: You can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” The same can be said about people.
The Power of One means that we are willing to work to be understood, and also devote energy to understanding others who may need understanding. Contrary to popular belief, being understood sometimes requires effort on my part. It might mean that I have to learn to communicate a little differently: Should I talk a little more? A little less? No surprise, understanding others always takes some calories from me.
To understand means to perceive or uncover the essential nature of something. In the case of the Power of One it’s getting your hands around another person’s core thoughts and feelings. Get inside their head. Walk in their shoes. See life from their angle. Climbing into the skin of your audience is key to all good communication.
Ted Geisel spent years stepping into the skin of his audience. He was already successful as an author when he agreed to a challenge—and inadvertently stepped into controversy. Better known as Dr. Seuss, Geisel focused his unique talent on writing books for children. The books took readers on a fantastic exploration of language. The titles themselves, like Horton Hears a Who! and If I Ran the Zoo, made people chuckle as well as curious. And, kids loved reading these stories. Why? Because Ted understood the minds of kids.
In 1956 an article appeared in Life magazine—and is still referenced today—titled, “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” The author of that article made the case that one of the primary reasons that children were experiencing difficulty in learning to read was that the books used to teach reading were boring and ineffective. The writer suggested that Dr. Seuss write a book designed to help kids learn how to read.
Dr. Seuss accepted that challenge. The experts gave him a list of 250 words that represented the vocabulary children could understand. That list cramped Dr. Seuss’s style, as he was used to ranging far and wide in his use of words, including making up his own. But, he worked within the strict limitations. To cure a bout of writer’s block, he took the first two words on the list that rhymed—and The Cat in the Hat was born. Geisel originally thought the project would take a few weeks. It ended up taking nine months.
The books were an overwhelming and overnight success—except with the very folks he had created the reading instruction tool for: the educational establishment. Teachers refused to use the book, and people even boycotted it. Geisel also received criticism for using his pen name “Dr.” because he didn’t have a Ph.D. In addition, educators felt that the book trivialized the soberness of the learning process: learning was serious, and this book was too much fun.
But an astounding thing happened. The primary customer, the kids, loved his work and wouldn’t let it die. Geisel sought to understand the world of the children: their minds, their imaginations, their issues, their creativity, and anything and everything that shapes the world of a child. In short, he said to himself, “I want to understand the child. I did not write this for adults but for kids.”
It took years for teachers to change their opinion, but The Cat in the Hat, and the additional 21 beginning reading books that Geisel authored over 30 years—such as Green Eggs and Ham and Fox in Sox—have become an integral part of the teaching landscape for children learning how to read books and love language.
The man who can put himself in the place of other men, who can understand the workings of their minds, need never worry about what the future has in store for him.” –Owen D. Young
Understanding others is not always easy. But all good understanding begins with someone taking the time to see life from the eyes of the other person. The Power of One is at work when you seek to understand another person.
1. Have you ever felt misunderstood? Describe the situation.
2. What feelings did you experience when you were misunderstood?
3. Why do you think we so easily misunderstand others or are misunderstood by others
I know you believe you understand what you think I said but … I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
4. Are you a good listener? Rate yourself on the following scale:
● Did you say something?
● Could you repeat that?
● Sounds like you said _____!
● I think I got what you said.
● I heard you loud and clear!
5. How does it make you feel when you know that another person desires to understand you?