I have traveled through the shoulder-your-way-through airport at Frankfort., a hub through which dozens of national airlines flow. People worldwide make connecting flights there, and the mashup of languages transports you back to Babel. It seems like a verbal snowstorm.

When the speaker crackles to life, a voice delivers announcements in several languages. Most were nothing more than gibberish…until English announcements were made.

Silently, I stand listening to my native language and say, “I understand.”

One theory of why older people keep telling the same stories to younger people is that they don’t get the story’s point. Everyone wants to be understood. Once someone understands what they are communicating, the stories stop.

Since we want others to understand us, we should listen to them. But do you *want* to get what they mean?

No one can connect with another unless you both want to hear them and can latch on to their intention.

The Barrier to Understanding

In our world of polarized flame-throwing, few people attempt to understand another. They pretend they get the message. They may say they “get it” Most believe (often, smugly) they have a clear picture.

But most have dangling communication cords.

Cable news networks present opposing and controversial viewpoints. Participants shout their positions over the raised voices of the other. No one understands…or wants to understand.

We think understanding is about words. If we both use the Oxford Dictionary, we share a common vocabulary. That must mean we “understand” since we know what the word means. Yet, experiences shape our meanings. All “hear” words differently. Just ask someone from Texas and another from Pennsylvania to pronounce “pecan.” We’re not even talking about the same nut!

And then, we talk more, thinking we will get across our point. But a stick swirled in a muddy stream makes it murkier. More swirling doesn’t settle the water. Talking more (especially today) leads to more distance, not less.

We want others to understand us. But to earn that right, you must interpret more than words.

So what does it take to “get” someone?

The Secret to Understanding

In high school and college, I was a debater. Each year, the state assigned a proposition that formed the debate’s topic.

To debate well, you had to argue both sides of a proposition.w In one round, you make a case for the issue. In the next round, you switched sides and had to deny the claim you just argued.

Through this process, I learned a simple principle.

Until you can state the other person’s argument in such a way that he agrees with, you haven’t understood. 

Understanding is not about caricature. When we hang labels on others (whether political, religious, or social), we create barriers to comprehension.

Accurate perception never assumes what another believes, knows, or says. Understanding is quiet, patient, and serene while investigating the meaning of another. The open person asks questions rather than making assertions.

That is why, today, few understand.

The wise man said:

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12)

He says you never understand until you stop talking.

Marriages, churches, and friendships suffer from misreading motives, assuming intentions, and inaccurate knowledge. Imagine if someone stopped and said, “Just a moment. Let me see if I understand you?”

Do you get it?