Turn It Up Coaching: Help the other feel understood, man and woman talking on table

How to help someone feel understood – 5 steps

Do you know how to help someone feel understood? Feeling understood is a basic human need and learning how to meet this need will strengthen your relationship. For example, has your spouse ever said to you, “You just don’t get it.”?  They are not saying you are stupid; they are saying that they don’t feel you understand them. Or have you ever been in a conversation with your husband or wife who continues to repeat themselves over and over and you wonder why they are doing that?  Unless that person has a mental deficiency, they are usually not feeling understood. One of the greatest needs and desires all of us have is to be understood. Here are some things we can do to help the people closest to us feel understood.

Five steps to help someone feel understood

1. Choose to Listen

First, choose to listen.  Hearing is something that happens when sound reaches your ears. Listening is a conscious choice you need to make if you want to have a meaningful conversation with someone. When someone is talking to you, they are usually trying to communicate something important to them.

Whether it is your spouse sharing about their day or your supervisor giving you instructions or your kid talking about what happened at school, they want you to get what they are trying to say. They want you to understand it. Your job is to focus on listening and not on speaking. 

Choosing to listen starts with focusing your attention.

Choosing to listen starts with focusing your attention. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, turn towards the other person and give them your undivided attention.  Instead of listening, most of us think about what we are going to say in response to what the other person is sharing. Instead, focus on trying to understand. Choose to understand not only what the other person is saying but what they are also communicating nonverbally and what they are feeling emotionally.

2. Ask Questions

Second, ask questions in a nonjudgmental way. This is not an interrogation; you are just wanting to learn more about what happened or to clarify what the person is communicating. Try to empathize with the person by trying to see the situation from their point of view and feel what they are feeling. Using open ended questions is better than asking questions that can be answered with a one-word response. Along with gathering facts and information, ask about their feelings too.

3. Paraphrase What You Heard

Third, paraphrase what you heard to see if you got it right. The temptation at this point of a conversation is to start giving advice or trying to fix the problem you just heard about. Paraphrasing starts with something like this, “What I hear you saying is…..” Then ask, “Did I get that right?” This gives the person the opportunity to either correct you if you got something wrong or tell you that you are right.

4. Validate the Person’s Feelings

Fourth, validate what the person is thinking or feeling. Validation is a huge part of making someone feel understood. To validate simply means to let them know that given the situation, their response or feeling makes sense.  An example is something like this, “If that had happened to me, I’d probably want to do that too.” Or another validating response is, “Now I can see why you are angry.” You don’t have to agree with what the person is feeling or thinking to validate. Just let them know that what they are experiencing is understandable.

5. Give Suggestions

Fifth, give suggestions if invited to. I have found that not everyone who comes to me wants my ideas on what they should do. Sometimes they just want to talk and get something off their chest. If they do ask for your advice, give suggestions rather than “shoulds”.  A suggestion empowers the person to consider your input and then decide what they want to do. Giving advice using the word “should” sounds like a command they must follow. Not only does it take away their choice, it also makes you responsible for the outcome if your advice turns out to be wrong.

Let’s remember that God understands us. Psalm 139:1-2 says,

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thoughts afar off.”

Psalm 139:1-2

Listening, asking questions, paraphrasing, validating and giving suggestions if invited to will make the people important to you feel understood. When someone feels understood, they will feel loved and that you really care about them. 

Want more on this? Here’s a video for you: https://youtu.be/AxDxDuSn91s

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