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5 Tips for How to Clarify for Meaning and Seek to Understand Part 1

This is part 1 of a 2 part blog on communication based on the 5th habit described by Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

There is a coaching principle called The Map is Not the Territory. Simply put, think of your local area and now think of a map of your local area that is to scale and you made it. This map will contain from your perspective, what is important to you to both include and leave out, which bits will be highlighted and which less so. Imagine this map that you have made. How like the actual place will it be?… The answer is, not very like it probably and another person also making a map of the same place will have one that looks different, possibly very different. You each might not even recognise that you have created a map of the same place and a visitor using it to find their way around could be very confused!

The reason for explaining this to you is because this is the way we all make meanings of everything in our world. The meanings we make are likely to be different from the meanings other make of the same thing. Joe Pane from the Coaching Institute recently said if you can’t enter another person’s ‘map’ when you are talking with them, they can’t hear you. If people can’t hear you and you aren’t ‘getting’ what they are saying, it is difficult to reach a shared understanding about anything and without that it is difficult to move forward in any relationship whether it be at home or at work.

If you apply this concept to communicating with friends, family, colleagues, clients and customers, seeking to understand (Steven Covey) becomes a vital part of effective communication.

So how can you seek to understand?

  1. When you are having a conversation, really listen to the other person…and this means not thinking about what you want to say next … (we all do this!), rather, try to focus on what they are saying – be truly curious.
  2. Clarify to make sure you understand…you said…what did you mean by that…do you mean…? I think I heard you say…is that right?
  3. Ask questions…can you help me understand – I don’t think I quite get it can you give me a bit more information…

How can you help others understand you?

Once you have sought to understand where someone is coming from, what their map of the world looks like, you will be able to respond in a way that matches the way they think and see things. As a result of your empathetic communicating they will also be more likely to listen to what you have to say. It’s a win/win for everyone.

What are the first steps you can take to seek to understand?

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