7 Steps to Better Understanding

You've probably read or heard this phrase in the past year, "Our nation has never been more divided."  I don't know if that's exactly true (thinking of the American Civil War), but I do know that people from all camps seem to be getting more angry, judgmental, and close-minded without actually engaging one other.

How about if each of us decides to reverse that trend, one at a time, in our own small way?  One great way to get a better grasp on things is to humble yourself and truly listen to a different opinion in a non-judgmental way.  

To that end I'm offering the following discussion template - 7 Steps to Better Understanding.  All you need to do is find someone who doesn't agree with you on a given topic (shouldn't be too hard, eh?). Then work through these steps one at a time - no shortcuts.

Dr. Stephen Covey wisely wrote,“Seek first to understand, then to be understood." So when you work through the template you're not allowed to counter with your opinions.  Good listening requires that you shut down your "automatic-rebuttal-response" and just hear what the other person is saying.  It's not easy, but do-able with a little practice. 

So here it is.  

7 Steps to Better Understanding

  1. Ask another person, “What is your opinion on ______?”
  2. Ask, “What events in your life helped to shape your opinion?”
  3. Respectfully (no sarcasm) restate their viewpoint in your own words.
  4. Ask them if you got it right.  If yes, then go to 6.  If not…
  5. Ask, “what part am I not getting?”  Listen, then go back to 3.
  6. Ask them how this exercise made them feel
  7. Only offer your opinion if they ask.  If not, you’re done. 


  • This method works for a wide variety of conflicts 
  • The only goal is to understand their viewpoint.  You don't need to agree with it
  • No sarcasm or arguing.  If you can't do that, it's a maturity problem on your part, not theirs.
  • You haven't fully understood their opinion unless they tell you that you have (step 4)
  • You should have no expectation that you'll get to offer your opinion.  If you do, that's a bonus

I'm going to try this a few times and will tell you what I learn.  How about if you give it a shot as well?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.