Three simple words that we do not use very well as adults.
I hear parents use the phrase “I don’t understand” more out of frustration for whatever their children are putting them through. When used in this context, it is more rhetorical. Parents know they won’t learn much more (that they agree with) so out of frustration out comes these words.
At the other extreme, the little child doesn’t know these words but will, on occasion, ask why. Their use of the word why, following a statement, is testimony to their curiosity. The ability for them to think slowly through something looking for the logical connection between what you just told them and what they don’t understand is priceless.
Since we are not children any more and need to look past our frustrations (at times) with our children, I am left wondering why don’t we use the phrase I don’t understand more?
Our communication tools demand more brevity (think twitter) while our world around us demands us to have more knowledge to interact with it (think smartphones, downloads, the cloud, apps, etc…) These two trends are a recipe for less understanding as our personal time becomes more compressed.
So I am always amazed when I listen to conversations with others where I don’t know ( I think others listening sometimes don’t either) a lot about a world talked about in conversation and no one says that there is something they don’t understand. I’ve done this myself 1000 times. Why is that?
Are we so rushed in our lives it’s easier to not understand and keep going? Is our ego so large so that we don’t want others to see that “we don’t know much”? Is it because if we did understand we would have little to add to the conversation?
Are we so rushed in our lives that we do understand that we don’t have the time to learn especially in casual conversation? Are we simply not curious? Do we simply not care? Are we just too tired to learn?
Or could it be that we simply don’t know what could help us grow? This is the one that frustrates me the most because I have found that “not understanding more or something new” keeps me stuck in the same place. There is no movement in our lives when we don’t understand anything new around us.
What complicates this is (most times) I am not aware of what I don’t know.
To expand and create movement in my world or your world you need to expand your understanding. I am not talking, in this context, about tolerance. I am talking about stuff, things, AND people. The granular details of experience and knowledge that another person has that I may (or may not) find helpful right at this moment. Since everyone’s knowledge and experience is different than mine, I’ve learned as I grow older, that I can always learn something new from everyone I meet throughout a day. (This is a very effective way to try and figure out what you don’t know.)
The learning itself will be uneven. Some days you might learn more, other days less. And that’s ok.
But to do this you must want to try. You need to slow people’s conversation down (and your own thinking at that moment of conversation) by saying things like: I don’t understand what you said or what you mean by that? Why do you feel that this is important (because I don’t believe it is)? What does XYZD mean? Why did you say this? Can you repeat that again?
Any time we can extend and deepen a conversation with these types of simple questions, we are beginning to engage the other person at a deeper level. It really shows we are listening. When we begin to see what they know and what we don’t we learn more about ourselves.
Questions help me understand what a person is really thinking or what is really bothering them. Questions help improve our listening when we have matured enough to understand that words are so imperfect and that there are limitations to brief explanations that can hide so much.
Learning can occur in so many different places outside of a book, computer or school. The great thing about this, besides the knowledge you will gain in conversation,you will become more present in the life of everyone you come in contact with. You will develop the important skill of engaging others.
Begin to see through others the possibilities that exist around you by using the simple phrase I don’t understand at times. Transform the three words into “now I understand” and begin to see your world both change and grow.