The Importance of Demonstrating Understanding

HandshakeGlobePhoto256wWith few exceptions, people want to be understood. They want someone to “get” what they are dealing with, and if possible, in a way that deepens their own understanding and command of their situation, and of their goals.

The same is true for you, the business professional. It is natural to want to establish yourself as credible by first telling people about yourself, your specialty, and your successes.

Unfortunately, deep trust with a colleague or advisor develops in a much different sequence. You cannot lead with what you can offer them. Before others care to listen about you, you must prove you understand their world.

Just passively listening is not enough. How will someone know you understand?

They will know in at least three ways:

1. The quality and relevance of the questions you ask.

2. Your ability to summarize the shape of the situation from the details of the discussion, with no distortion.

3. Your ability to present and test out important implications arising from the discussion – both rational and emotional in nature.

In The Trusted Advisor1, there is an excellent list of what great listeners don’t do.

They don’t:

1. Interrupt

2. Respond too soon

3. Match the client’s points (“Oh, yes, I had something like that happen to me. It all started…”)

4. Editorialize in midstream (“Well, that option’s a nonstarter”)

5. Jump to conclusions (much less judgments)

6. Ask closed-ended questions for no reason

7. Give you their ideas before hearing yours

8. Judge you

9. Try to solve the problem too quickly

10. Take calls or interruptions in the course of a client meeting (it seems so obvious, but watch how often it happens!)

Finally, to demonstrate understanding, you must be deeply present – “in the moment” with the person across from you. Expert in consulting practice development, Alan Weiss, stresses the importance of being in the moment to the success of the consulting professional in this way:

” You come this way once, I think we can all agree on that much. While you’re here, you might as well be cognizant of the world around you so that you can take best advantage of it. Listen. Look. Interact. Question. Poke. Probe.
Get in the moment.
Or the moment is gone.”2

So when you want to explore a deep and trusting relationship with someone, remember it starts with his or her world. Be present – in the moment and aware. Listen intently. Ask questions that get to the heart of the matter. Summarize and synthesize what you see. Voice the implications that occur to you as you piece together their world. Do this, and perhaps they will become curious about you and your world.

© 2006 Gary Ralston and respective copyright holders, attributed, below.

1 Source: pp 104-105, The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H, Green and Robert M. Galford. ISBN: 0743212347

2 Source: THE MILLION DOLLAR CONSULTANT(tm) Private Roster Mentor Program Newsletter Issue #77: January 2006. (c) Alan Weiss 2006. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Gary Ralston, and his wife, Ann, founded Ralston Consulting Inc. to help clients across the US and Canada accelerate business growth while maintaining personal balance and integrity. Gary can be reached by email:, website:, or phone, 614-761-1841.

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Friday, February 17th, 2006 Article Archive, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Sales

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