Thursday, December 15, 2011

Understanding Understanding

There is peace in understanding.  Where there is peace prosperity follows.

Isn’t much of life over complicated by our lack of seeking understanding rather than thirsting for precision?  To clarify what may seem like cryptic rhetoric what I mean is we walk/run/float through life daily and most have experienced people trying to convert others to their way because they know what’s best.  This leads to all sorts of conflict and damaging scars.  Method A is the way to get there and it is my responsibility as an advocate for Method A to convince everyone of its and my validity.  You see this kind of behavior and underlying thought processes in politics, religion, business, science, sports and a myriad of other subjects.  The Republicans know what is right so the Democrats are clueless.  Creationist seem foolish to evolutionist scientist.  Chest passes are better and more accurate than behind the back passes.  Christianity is the only way to enlightenment and all the other religions and zealots of the world are out rightly wrong.  We live in an us vs them society.  This is unhealthy and polarizing.  As a society, personally and professionally, if we focused on understanding others more so than changing them we would flourish at anything we set our minds/efforts to.

Personally seeking to understand others rather than agree with them has a twofold benefit.  First, the seeker automatically becomes a great conversationalist and immediately likeable.  Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People talks a ton about making people feel important by asking questions.  If someone talks about themselves a lot in a conversation they walk away thinking you are a great conversationalist.  If you don’t know what I am talking about because you have never read this book I suggest it highly as something that will change your life for the better.  Secondly, any opinion you may have that could or would cause conflict is neutralized because you are no longer worried about being right, but are actually interested in understanding another’s’ opinion.  Even if you disagree you understand, which is better than incongruity.  At my core I am about certain principles and those principles are not going to be changed by anyone externally making an effort to do so.  Any change an individual makes must be one they decide upon.  This decision is made by understanding.  Take the painfully interesting show Intervention. It gathers a substance addict and their family in a room to help the addict understand how their addiction is affecting everyone else.  Have you ever tried to tell someone they will stop being addicted to a drug?  It doesn’t work.  The family explains to this person how they feel about all this.  The addict can understand how his actions are hurting those he/she loves and is inspired to change.  The decision is made by them and isn’t one forced upon them.  It is not about telling the addict how bad they are hurting themselves or any other form of prescriptive banter, it is all about understanding.  Political conversations/arguments could be a lot less volatile if individuals sought out to understand why another holds to a certain viewpoint.  Often times I have found that by engaging in conversations where you seek understanding it becomes clear that the person actually doesn’t understand their own views.  Sometimes seeking to understand someone else unveils their own lack of foundational knowledge to hold to such a belief (in whatever it is they believe).  This miraculous unveiling inspires them to reconsider their position.  Maybe they come to agree with you, but maybe they don’t, either way it is better that they and you understand the position even if it’s different.  Understanding another helps you respect their position, even if you disagree.  Imagine the great amount of peace that would abound if we all sought to understand each other.

Professionally seeking understanding makes you teachable, a good listener, and smarter. These three qualities alone set a person or their business apart.  Professional “understanders” are in marketing.  My particular world view and belief in seeking to understand others makes me a great fit for marketing and if you’ve been keeping up with me personally as of late you know that’s the path I’m aggressively pursuing.  You have marketers and advertisers.  I think these two often get used interchangeably which can be confusing.  Marketing is seeking to understand a business’s needs or helping consumers understand your product/business.  Advertisers seek to sell by tantalizing senses (generally speaking based off my experience).  Advertising seeks to sell in the way that can be off putting.  You need this, you’re not cool without this, we are better, etc.  These are all prescriptive methods and much like arguing different opinions typically don’t have lasting outcomes.  I will never ever buy a vehicle from anywhere but CarMax.  This bold statement has to do with marketing vs advertising, understanding vs conversion.  Pulling up to the dealers lot you often times get made to feel like a wounded animal surrounded by sharks ready to attack their prey as soon as you open that door.  They go on and on about why you should buy here and NOW all the while making the customer feel uncomfortable and pressured.  I’d imagine a lot of impulsive decisions are made on the stereotypical car dealer lot.  You pull up to CarMax and are greeted and then assigned a sales person who basically just helps understand your needs, makes suggestions, and allows you to make an informed decision based off your needs, not their commission.  It was easier purchasing our vehicle than it was our couches.  CarMax gets marketing, CarMax gets understanding people.  As a business when you can make your customer feel like you are interested in them and trying to understand their needs you automatically get a fan and potential client.  No matter how good a product is if I am made to feel uncomfortable or like that company isn’t interested in meeting my needs then I am unlikely to patronize that establishment.  Seeking to understand people is what business is about at the essence of any issue.  Someone along the way understood a group of needs and saw they could make money by meeting that need, thus the birth of a profitable (hopefully) business. 

Understanding cannot be overlooked or minimized.  To succeed one must understand.  Understanding brings peace and where there is peace prosperity follows.  Do you seek to understand others personally?  Do you seek to understand others professionally?  Would people describe you as a person who truly is interested in understanding them?  

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