Have you ever thought to yourself:
“All of my family, friends, and colleagues appreciate every single thing I do for them?”
“Everyone I encounter in life understands exactly what I’m trying to say and do?”
My guess is that you rarely feel this way, if ever at all. And until telepathy becomes widely available, you will probably continue to feel underappreciated and misunderstood by at least one person in your life on a regular basis.
Here’s the secret: everyone else feels this way too. They feel that they have good intentions. They have justifications for their behaviors, even when those behaviors negatively affect you. People aren’t irrational, they’re just personally rational.
As Dale Carnegie notes in How To Win Friends and Influence People, even infamous mobsters felt like they were trying to do good and help people. They couldn’t believe that people didn’t appreciate their efforts to provide scarce goods, services, and jobs for their community.
Teachers often face similar challenges. In an effort to hold students to high standards, teachers sometimes face the wrath of parents who are upset because their child received a failing grade. Both the teacher and the parents feel that they’re doing the right thing, and that the other person misunderstands them and doesn’t necessarily appreciate the effort they’re investing in the child.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is objectively right, but rather that they are less inclined to listen to your point until they feel like their perspective has been heard and understood. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey issues this call to action: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
One practical way I encourage adults and students I work with to “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” is to ask non-judgmental questions about the other person’s position until you can repeat that person’s perspective back to them and they agree with your summary.
For example, in the previously mentioned teacher–parent scenario, the teacher could say: “It sounds like you want the best for your child, and you want him to succeed in life. You really care about your child, and you’re upset that this failing grade might negatively affect his future. Does that sound right?”
Once you mutually agree that you’re accurately understanding the other person’s position, you will be much more likely to succeed in demonstrating how your position achieves some or all of their goals. This approach applies to school, jobs, relationships, and every other area of life where you interact with people.
If everyone feels underappreciated and misunderstood, then the greatest gift you can give someone is appreciation and understanding. And once you begin to give that gift on a regular basis, you may be surprised by how often you receive it in return.
Have you shown someone appreciation or understanding and been pleasantly surprised by the results? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!