Question #2 – “Would you help me understand?”

In my last article, the first of three questions was offered that I used to empower people in awkward situation. The first question was, “Would you help me?” You can re-read Part #1 as I refresher, but in general, Question #1 offers a humble, low-key, and direct way to ask others for help. To the receiver of this question, it communicates a need in an inviting, non-controlling, and relationship-building way. If you have already read about Question #1, I hope you experience success in using the simple words, “Would you help me?”

Question #2 – “Would you help me understand something?”

While this question may seem similar to Question #1, it is different. First notice that Question #1 is about a specific and tangible act of help or service. It requests a behavioral act by another – if they chose to respond. Question #2 adds the word “understand.” Let me explain why this simple question is so helpful.

Asking to “Understand” is Respectful and Affirming

The design of the words is to sincerely ask for information from another person. The tone of asking, Would you help me understand something?” is asked in an intentionally open and respectful way that values the other’s thoughts, feelings, and perspective on a particular topic. It is a way of demonstrating curiosity and a desire hear and “understand” their reason for asking something of us or doing something in a particular way.

Here are some example of, “Would you help me understand … ________?”

“Would you help me understand … why you said that (to me or to someone else?

“Would you help me understand … why you are asking me about this (or to do that)?”

“Would you help me understand … your rational (or reasoning) for doing it this way?”

“Would you help me understand … why they (job, colleague or neighbor) do it this way?”

A Conversation of Understanding, Not Debate

I see Question #2 as a conversation opener, not a set-up to argue, condemn or embarrass another person. The goal is asking and receiving their thoughts or reasoning process. Often a person has a perspective, a routine or a directive to think and do things a certain way. I am no different. I have found ways of thinking and doing things at home, at work, when driving or grocery shopping that I do automatically. But I often find other people work, shop and do project much differently than I do.

We Are All Different

Early in life, I was insecure and frustrated when I discovered that others had different ways of understanding and doing things. These differences led to conflict. The quest to win led to heated arguments, hurts, division in homes and among friends, and losses in relationships and work.

But over time, I discovered neither my way nor their way was “self-evident truths.” It is more about personal experiences and preferences. So instead of closing my mind and ears to them, I learned to ask them first, “Would you help me understand your thoughts?” This question opened up communication, slowed emotions from spilling over, helped gain new information, and maintains respectful relationships.

The “Myth” of Mind Reading

Question #2, “Will you help me understand?” also helps clarify misinformation or assumptions that could create confusion or conflict. Specifically this question challenges and tests the notion of “mind-reading.”

Mind-reading is the mistaken belief by a person that they are gifted with a certain radar or skill that “reads” the mind, heart, and purpose behind another’s words and actions. Most typically, mind-reading assumes the worst motives and intentions of another person and seldom allows that person to clarify, defend or free from the accusations the minder-reader deeply believes against the person

Here are some examples of mind-reading, with an assumption the other intended to be disrespectful and malicious:

“I know what you are thinking!”

“I know what you are thinking about me!”

“I know why you did that! Don’t deny that!’

“I saw you raise your eye-brows (or look away); you don’t care or are guilty)!”

“You say (or did) this, but I know you mean this (or that)!”

Question #2 Is Clarifying and Unifying

By asking, “Would you help me understand?” we can check out any confusion or wrong assumptions on our part. This question also invites the other person to openly share – without our judgment. It also allows some “wiggle room” if the other person was not as polished, even impulsive or naïve, in what they initially said.

By asking this question and hearing their answer, clarity and understanding can occur. This delays and preempts the risk that a misunderstanding could cause unnecessary hurt and alienation between two people.

But Sometimes the Discovered “Truth” May Hurt

I am not naïve. In setting aside mind-reading and reserving judgment by asking the question, “Will you help understand?” we may indeed find out that their opinion was as intentional, shocking and hurtful as we feared. The good news, even in this case, is that we at least know the truth! Instead of erring on a wrong assumption for why they said or did something, we now know they their words and acts came intentionally form them – whether we like it or not. But at least we know where they stand. And often that is okay.

But Wait and Read Question #3 Before Giving Up

Understanding is important. Not just from them, but next from you. Read the next installment to discover Question #3, and see how it may help you even when the “truth” from another is surprising, even disappointing.

Call or email me, Douglas Frey Ph.D. (952-920-2789) for help with your relationships and relationship problems. I am a licensed Christian counselor serving individuals and families in in Eden Prairie and nearby Chanhassen, Chaska, Shakopee, Minneapolis and other Western Suburbs.