Listen with the intent to understand

Have you ever had someone say things to you in emails, on the phone or in person that cause you to take offense? What do you do about it? How do you get passed it and work through it?

One effective way to get over the offense is to make an attempt to understand why the other person said what they did. If they offended you, look past the words they used and make an attempt to understand what is behind it.

Ask yourself, “What hurt are they feeling that would cause them to react like this? What is going on in their life that may cause them pressure? What is their side of the story?”

There is a story I heard about a man riding in a subway. His three kids ran up and down the subway car while he stared out the windows unaware of the children’s activity and the annoyance of the other passengers.

Finally one older woman passenger had enough. She turned to the man, “Why aren’t your children better behaved?” The man looked at her with a weary expression and shook his head, “I’m sorry I am a little distracted. We’re on our way home from the hospital where their mother just died. I don’t suppose they quite know how to deal with it.” Her sharp criticism immediately turned to empathy.

When you take time to understand a person and their situation, it often stirs compassion. This is an effective way to get over your own hurt, criticism or judgment of the person. Understanding is a key to being able to forgive an offense. As I shared in a previous post, the first key to effective communication is a willingness to consider the other person’s point of view. Take the time to ask them and try to understand what is going on with them.

When you are willing to listen with empathy as I talked about  in 7 Tips for Effective Listening and Talking Together, you can usually work things out to come to a place of peace with each other.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)


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