Discovering how to better understand people is essential in all facets of life. In your personal life, you deal with relationships with your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, friends, children, and anyone you come in contact with outside the home. In your professional life, it may be bosses, colleagues, clients, etc. How you interact with people and understand a situation can make all the difference in the outcome of our interactions.

Below are 5 tips to help you become better at understanding people. These tips work for both personal and professional dealings.

How To Understand People Better_ 5 Tips

 

Ask Questions

You can’t get to the bottom of a problem or begin to understand if you don’t take time to ask questions as to why the person feels a certain way. Why are they angry or upset? What caused them to feel this way? If it’s your children, was it something that happened at school? For your spouse, was it something I said or did? (TIP – it’s almost always something you did)

 

Listen

Listening goes hand in hand with questioning. Don’t bother to ask questions if you’re not going to bother to listen to the answers. If someone is taking the time to confide in you, then give them the respect to listen. Let them know you are listening and keep the conversation moving along by saying things like:

  • “What happened next?”

Read more on listening skills.

 

Allow for feelings

If people are willing to talk, then many times, understanding the problem is simple. Allow them to express how they’re feeling or ask…

  • “How did that make you feel?”

Allow them to be emotional. Everyone gets angry and upset. It’s human nature to feel these types of emotions, so let the person express them.

 

Offer Compassion

Once you’ve got the person to open up and are beginning to understand how they are feeling, offer compassion. A good hug (bro-hug or otherwise) will let them know you care. After all, everyone wants to know that someone cares about them. Ask them things like…

  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “Do you want me to go beat him up for you?” (that’s aimed at my daughter who recently had a boyfriend break up with her).

Just showing support for the person goes a long way in understanding how they feel and allowing them to open up in the future.

 

What do you do next?

There is something I learned about many years back that I recalled when writing this article that discusses how to react or how to think before you speak.

There is an old Sufi tradition that advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four “gates.”

  • At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go.
  • At the second gate, we ask; “Are they necessary?”
  • At the third gate, we ask; “Are they beneficial?”
  • At the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?”
  • If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.

If you’ve done your job, the mere fact that you listened, offered compassion, and talked them through the situation will go a long way to making them feel better with the outcome.

I’ll also add that to understand others, we need to understand ourselves as well. Often we find people who are great listeners and extremely helpful with other people, but their own lives are a mess. Take time to work on yourself and understand who you are as well — more on that to come.

I hope you use these tips to better understand people regularly at home and work. What do you do to help better understand people? Comment below and sign up for our weekly newsletter. 

11 Comments

  1. Despite Pain

    Listening is so important, isn’t it? Many people ask questions but forget to listen.
    I like the Sufi tradition of going through gates. That’s a great way to live. Think first, speak later.

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      I was blown away by the Sufi tradition as well. Many could learn from this.

      Reply
  2. Kelly Martin

    Sometimes it’s hard to understand people and where they’re coming from, but if you take the time to listen to their point of view it makes all the difference. Asking questions is really important too.

    Reply
  3. Stacy

    This is the most important aspect of life how to understand people better. Yes a good tight hug makes lots of situation very light. Its not that every time you need to speak sometimes your action speak for yourself.

    Reply
  4. Lyosha

    Talking esp in forms of question is a best way. Very nice post, we do all need it more now, as communication is a little different now

    Reply
  5. Alexandra

    This was really good and a lot of things went through my mind as I read this. I liked what you said to your daughter after a boyfriend break-up. I’m also glad you clarified that statement, lol.

    I once had a boyfriend who, after listening to my story of things that my step-father had done to me as a kid he said, “Don’t take me wrong, Alex, because I’m not a guy prone to violence. But right now I just want to take a gun and shoot your step-father.” That was over 20 years ago and my step-father has been dead for many years. But that statement of compassion is still embedded in my memory and it will be forever, I guess. That someone cared enough about me to wish he could have defended me when I was young.

    I also have some thoughts on the “Listening” section. As a parent of a teen, we are often given the advice to not let our child engage us in an argument. I have learned this through experience. I am so tired of fighting as soon as he wakes up and I’ve learned when he is trying to speak his mind or when he is just trying to rile me up, hoping I will change my mind. So there are many times that I will not listen and I will not allow him to express himself. As a single mom, I just can’t let him disturb my peace and the peace in the house several times a day. I’m the one trying to run the household and it’s just hard when everything you say and every decision you make is made into an argument. I think all parents of teens need to learn the balance of letting their kids talk and get their feelings out and not letting them engage you in a battle all the time. It’s really exhausting.

    Reply
  6. Lene Andersen

    I think we would all be much better off if we practised these skills. We tend to be more interested in speaking than in hearing about other people’s experiences. If there is one upside to the current public health crises, it’s that maybe we’ll start listening more.

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      Some people love to hear themselves speak and don’t bother to listen at all.

      Reply
  7. Britt K

    Great tips – Honestly, I think the biggest mistake that most people make is that they fail to listen. How often have we heard simple questions like “Hey, how are you?” but you can tell that the person’s mind is elsewhere before you even try to answer. We would learn SO much about the people around us – friends, family, coworkers, neighbours, strangers – if we’d just take a moment to step back and actively listen.

    Reply
  8. Subhashish Roy

    Such a great way to understand people by asking questions and then listening which is the most difficult for many. I liked this Sufi concept of thinking before speaking and passing through the gates. Enjoyed reading.

    Reply
  9. Krystel | Frugal Living

    I think it’s so interesting how sensitive other people can be. Your words, that you mean harmlessly, can be hurtful to someone else. It seems so foreign sometimes

    Reply

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