Alphabet Series - U is for Understand
I have a bit of an issue with the word understand. I especially don't like it when people say they understand. While I am all for understanding, I don't think saying you understand has much to do with actually understanding. Let me explain--and own up to my own hypocrisy.
Often when we talk with one another, it is convenient to tell the other person that you understand what they are saying. It conveys that you are listening and getting the essence of what they are talking about. While it doesn't necessarily mean you agree, it does convey a general "I'm with you" feeling. But, does saying you understand really do all those things? I think it does on the surface, but I don't think it helps to connect on a deeper level.
Let's try this example. I tell you that I am nervous about writing this post because I really don't have that much to say and am stretching it a bit. You tell me that you understand. And you do at one level. I am sure you have been nervous so you can relate to that and understand how that might feel. There have also probably been times when you have stretched things out so you can also appreciate how that works. As a therapist, I know that if we were talking and I told you that I understood what you were saying, it most likely would prompt me to continuing talking. Which is what therapist's want. They want you to keep talking and exploring what you are thinking, feeling and doing. As a tool to keep the other person talking it works well.
So what is my gripe with it? Glad you asked. When you told me you understood that I might be nervous about this post, you were trying to connect with me and perhaps be encouraging. But, do you really know and understand what it is like for me to be nervous? When I am nervous about this is it the same as when you are nervous about something? Is nervousness a one size fits all thing? I don't think so. I would much rather you told me what you did understand. Why not say: "I understand that you are nervous about the post." You aren't saying you understand how I am nervous or what being nervous is like for me. You are saying that you are hearing what I am saying. And, if you wanted bonus points, you could say - "What is that like for you?"
I do think the world would be a better place if we took the time to understand other people's point of view and empathize with that view as best we can. When we just say we understand we are not really making an attempt to more fully grasp what the other is saying. And, sure, I say "I understand" more than I would like as it is an easy way to encourage and try to connect with the other. But, when I am on my A game, I like to say what it is that I do understand and ask for greater clarification.