From assuming to understanding

People have often asked me why I tend to frequently defer to questions rather than statements. “Just say what you think!!” There are reasons for this… and I see them coming out more frequently as I dive deeper into my relationships.

My natural tendency when I am critiqued, criticized, or judged is to respond in one or both of the following ways. I will either try to defend myself and reason with the person as to why I am not to blame or why I am right and they are not… or I will turn the focus to the other so that we can begin to question them rather than me. This could all be resolved if there were a mutual desire to understand rather than assume.

See, it comes down to statements versus questions. Statements are often made quickly and very frequently reek of assumptions and judgments. Too often, the person making quick retort statements has no clue what he or she is talking about and it often ends up with the other feeling hurt or misunderstood. Questions slow things down. Questions allow the other to speak for herself… to explain what the current perception is. And for the one asking the question… well, there is no threat or personal attachment to a well-asked question.

I don’t feel as though I am hurt too often any more by people’s statements that come from their lack of understanding or non-desire to understand… but I am saddened. I am frustrated. And it is often all too difficult to keep my mouth shut when I feel the need to lash back or put the other person in their place. To do this is to take an even lower blow than I received.

5 thoughts on “From assuming to understanding

  1. but Nate, sometimes it takes a statement to reveal your self to the other person. By just deflecting a statement with a question you are not engaging in a dialog from your true self, you are just doing an intellectual ping pong match, and you aremost likely detached from the other person. Often it is in the heated disagreements, if they are done from a true center, that allow us to refine our views and understandings. Conflict over feelings, worldviews, assumptions and perceived truths that make us who we are is a good thing not to be avoided.

    Lashing out at the other to make your self feel better is obviously not a good technique. Perhaps you can start with a statement to reveal your self a bit, then follow up with a question.


  2. Bob,
    I appreciate your thoughts… as I have learned over the last year and a half how we handle these things so differently.

    I definitely want to be present and give myself to others. I see, though, that my responses, especially to accusations, are indeed offerings of my self. Because I want to take this so seriously, I am very hesitant to make a statement in response or reaction to someone before I really understand where they are coming from. My desire is to understand and this means slowing down… not like a ping pong match.

    I definitely am not afraid of conflict… but I want it to be productive. The ping pong match comes when both parties continue to make statement towards the other without ever listening.

    Your suggestion to start with a statement is a good one. Perhaps, something like… “I really want to understand your perspective better so could you help clarify something for me?”


  3. “I am very hesitant to make a statement in response or reaction to someone before I really understand where they are coming from.”

    In a relationship this is a life long endeavor. If you wait and wait and wait to have it all figured out before your respond, do you ever move forward?


  4. I think there is a time and place for both questions and statements. The challenge in posting something like this online, in the abstract, is that its difficult to determine whether you specifically are erring one way or the other. So what I would recommend Nate is that you ask people whether or not they find you evasive at all in your responses.

    Again, the issue is not really an abstract one – or, better put, we can all agree on that level. The real issue is whether we personally are exercising the right balance. And for that you really need other people’s perspectives on your own communication style.


  5. I agree very much with darrenbrett’s comment, and have a small suggestion.

    You mentioned the ways you typically react when you are “critiqued, criticized, or judged” as defending yourself or turning the focus on the other. Perhaps instead of those things, you could do something very bettgerian (that word is going straight into my regular vocabulary!!) and issue an invitation.

    Invite this critic to understand how you came to hold the particular opinion at issue. Openly ponder how this point of view originated in your life. Invite the critic (dare I say the perceived critic?) to understand where your thinking comes from. If the verbal attacks persist, or even if they don’t, invite the person to share the origins of his/her opinions.

    This may not work all the time, but I have found it a useful tool for deflating some of the emotional energy from a conversation. After this kind of “origin of my opinion” sharing, I’ve found I can more calmly discuss the issue at hand with him/her.


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