Updated: Jul 6, 2022
These two simple words are the beginning of the end of a meaningful conversation.
They are two words that don't really mean anything.
They stop you from truly connecting with your partner.
They cause strife.
What are the two most destructive words of good communication?
What's so wrong these words?
Let me tell you.
By saying "I understand" you are not actually demonstrating that you understand. There is no proof that you truly do see from their perspective.
It's a cheap phrase, and honestly doesn't mean much of anything to your significant other.
What does this remind me of?
Unfortunately, math class.
I enjoyed math class, but I hated the part where my math teachers demanded that I show my work.
I saw it on my home assignments too many times to count.
Zero credit for no work shown.
Show Your Work!
In math class you aren't allowed to simply give the answer ("I understand").
You are required to show your work. If you could not show your work, you would not get credit for your problems that you solved.
Would you like to get some credit for listening and connecting with your partner?
First, quit using the phrase "I understand".
Then, practice these two principles so that you can you can show your work when listening.
1. Make sure you aren't distracted.
Make good eye contact. Nod your head. Saying little things like "ok", and "mhmm" can go a long way.
These little non-verbal and verbal cues show your partner not only that you are following along, but that you are also interested in what they are say.
2. Make sure you clarify what they are saying.
Check in with your partner by asking questions.
"So what you are saying is _____"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are saying that ______."
In doing so you are giving your partner the opportunity to clarify any part of the story that might be miscommunicated until you get the golden response.
"Yes, that is what I am saying"
"Yes, you get it now"
If you get a phrase that is "I'm not sure if you quite get it yet", keep trying.
If you are totally off the mark, apologize, and ask if your partner can explain it to you again.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you get it. This can be a very slow endeavor.
Trust the process. Show your work.
You want to go above and beyond? After your partner says that "you get it" you can ask the phrase "Is there more". This is just another opportunity to really clarify what you partner is trying to communicate with you. Plus, you get to "show-off" your superior listening skills.
Just like I hated showing my work in math class, you might hate showing your work listening.
I don't blame you.
Communicating effectively can be a lot of work.
You might think, "It just takes so much time to talk about anything if we keep clarifying everything."
It can seem slow, tedious, and at times, just downright ridiculous.
If you can push through the awkwardness of slowing things down, practice good listening skills, and clarify what your partner is saying, you are well on your way to a happier, more meaningful, and more connected marriage.
And let's not forget.
Never say "I understand" again.
Jesse is a Licensed Associate Counselor in Northwest Arkansas. When Jesse was growing up, he had people with deep character pour into his life, motivating him to be the change that he wanted to see in the world. Jesse wants to pass that on to others by providing encouragement, support, and smiles to the individuals he works with through counseling, volunteering, networking, and writing. Jesse believes every person has the ability to become the best versions of themselves given they take intentional action towards their goals, give it time, and allow themselves to experience grace along the way.
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