The experience of being understood versus interpreted is so compelling you can charge admission.

B. Joseph Ane II

The experience of being human is fraught with the opportunity for misunderstanding between people. No one person’s worldview is the same as the other. Our language and self-concepts are so diverse. It is a surprise, given our differences, that we communicate without more upset than happens currently.

Upsets, breakdowns and misunderstandings are so commonplace. Yet, we have very few tools to navigate the tricky waters of personal sensitivities, different stages of development, and all of our diverse views.

The Conversation for Understanding is one such tool. Many people have used the Conversation for Understanding to achieve significant resolution of stuck or dysfunctional relationships. It is also a critical tool on any path towards personal mastery.

While the tool is relatively simple, it requires a high degree of self-esteem, development and willingness from the participant who seeks to understand the other person.

There are three main rules as part of the Conversation for Understanding. I stress that these are rules. Agree to participate in or initiate a Conversation for Understanding, and you agree to these three rules.

1. Intention To Understand.

You must have a very high commitment to understand the others’ point of view. If ‘zero’ indicates no commitment and ‘ten’ indicates maximum commitment, you must be at a nine or ten. This level of commitment requires that we give up our need to be;


*better than

*have suffered more

*have more reason for

*be less understood than

*have a more extended history of

Or any other roadblock to understanding. Your willingness to truly get into the other’s shoes, their worldview, their mindset, their history and values, to understand is the singular focus. You do not have to agree with them. I can understand why someone may deceive their partner in a relationship, and there can be many compelling reasons as to why they would, but I do not have to agree with them that this is the right path or even the wrong path.

Our committed intention to understand requires a willingness to put aside our own views and opinions, at least for the time it takes to inhabit the other’s worldview and to come from empathy and compassion towards the other. If you cannot do this, then the issue lies within you. You need to do the inner work on yourself to reach a place where you can find the willingness.

During the Conversation for Understanding, this commitment to understanding will likely be frequently tested. There will be moments during the conversation where you easily slip back into a place of defence and righteousness.

Therefore, we need to hold clear and strong to our internal resolve to completely understand the other.

2. Only Ask Questions.

Since the purpose is to understand, no explanation is required from us. We can only ask questions to take us closer to complete understanding. Inherent in rule #1 and #2 is our willingness to listen deeply and profoundly.

From our intensive listening, questions will naturally arise. The tone of the questions will match our intention to understand and, therefore, will not be interrogatory, sarcastic, or bitter.

We will question with genuine curiosity, aligned with our desire to understand fully. The person we are seeking to understand will not feel threatened or criticized. During the Conversation for Understanding, they will quickly get your intent to understand, and they will relax into their explanation.

3. Do Not Defend or Justify.

If we are following the first two rules, this one will be easy. I list it as a reminder that the Conversation for Understanding does not allow any defence or justification. Period.

Even if the other party says something you believe in the core of your being is wrong, you do not defend it. If they say you were at X place at 10 AM and you not only know that you were not, you have ten people to prove it, you DO NOT defend yourself. The purpose of this conversation is for you to UNDERSTAND them, not for you to be RIGHT!

You will be challenged by this rule many times over during the conversation. Hold your nerve, and keep reminding yourself of your intent.

If you break from your intention and go into defence or justification, their guard will quickly go up, and you will need to find a way to regain their trust.

We advise using the 7-Step process from Speak the Truth (purchase the ebook here) to prepare yourself before this conversation. If you are unfamiliar with this process, set the context for the conversation by saying something like this.

“Paul, I know you and I have not been seeing eye to eye on some major issues of late. I would really like to understand your point of view on this, as I know I have not expressed an interest in understanding your perspective. Would you be willing to take some time to explain to me why you feel so strongly about this issue so I may be able to work with you more respectfully?”

Another example is, “Paul, I would really like to understand what about my behaviour has caused you so much distress.

If these words are spoken with complete sincerity, Paul is likely to say yes. If he disagrees, then follow up with words similar to these.

“OK, I hear you are not comfortable about helping me to understand your point of view. I can understand your reluctance, given how I have behaved towards you of late, that you may very well be suspicious of my intentions. I would like to reiterate that I intend to understand your point of view and to demonstrate that I will keep this offer on the table.”

Then, you must go about your business without criticism and stay open to your lack of complete understanding. If you maintain this position and your sincerity and ask again for them to agree to the conversation, they may become willing, given time and your demonstration of sincerity.

Once you are in the Conversation for Understanding, these are the main steps.

1. Use the communication process, Listen till you no longer exist, as the way to “be” in the conversation. Instead of telling the truth, your listening and intuition will allow the questions to rise. Practice your active listening skills.

2. As you go through the conversation, asking questions, getting clearer and clearer, keep asking them if there is anything else they need to say.

Anything else?

Anything else?

Give them plenty of time once you have asked this question, allowing them to go deep inside to see if there is anything else.

I once did this process with a colleague when we were not seeing eye to eye. I asked questions and listened to her for 45 minutes, taking eight pages of notes (it was a phone conversation). I kept asking her if there was anything else. Finally, she said no. However, later that day, I received an email with more.

This is OK. You want them to get it all out—all of it. No residue. Nothing left to be said, not one word. This is very important. Give them the space and respect to be fully heard.

3. When they are done, and there is nothing else to say, it is time for you to recap what they have shared with you in your words. It is this recap that will affirm to them that you have been listening and that you do understand them. If you have missed something or not heard something in the way that resonates with them, they will correct you. Then, you recap again.

“Just to be sure I have really understood you, here is what I heard…”

Then, stay silent for them to speak. They will say yes, that is it; no, this also happened, or, yes, this is right, but this is what I meant here.

Keep recapping until they say you have it exactly right for them.

And keep asking if there is anything else.

4. When agreement has been reached, the next step is for you to go away and reflect. Often, the Conversation for Understanding process is so focused and intense that taking time out to step back and reflect is essential for you to gain perspective.

“Thank you, Paul, for giving me the time to understand your point of view. I would like to go away for a few days and really consider your point of view and then get back to you as to how we can possibly move forward from here.”

In the experience I described with my colleague above, when I did take time to review my notes, I had a very extreme “ah!” moment. 80% of what she has said about me, word for word, was precisely what I felt and spoke about her. We were mirroring each other – something I had been told by my various teachers over the years happened all the time but had never actually been thrown so clearly back in my face.

With this realization, I was able to focus on cleaning my own stuff up and could completely drop the personal issue I had towards my colleague. My relationship with her was now clean.

I have had many clients have a similar experience. Following this conversation, even when only one person out of the two is fully understood, relationships have been healed and transformed.

When people feel completely understood, they simultaneously feel respected, listened to, and honoured.

Often, this is all that is needed to heal relationships. It is a profound gift that we extend to others. (We also gain by improving communication skills within ourselves.)

Therefore, in many cases, it only takes one person to participate with the awareness of the Conversation for Understanding.

However, in more extreme cases, or if you have two people trained in the Conversation for Understanding rules, you can take turns. Once you fully understand the other, you may request they give you the same opportunity. This may be important when working with groups, teams or nations. It may take repeated turns to reach a complete understanding for all parties.

The Conversation for Understanding extends the greatest courtesy, dignity and respect to the other. At its heart lies the seeds of compassion and care.

If you doubt this, remember when someone extended this courtesy to you, when you felt completely understood. If you have not had this experience, then extend this experience to others often, and one day, someone will take the time to understand you.

We all long for understanding. The more the world takes the time to listen and understand, the less we live in divisiveness. Give the Conversation for Understanding as a gift.