Being understanding towards other people, situations and experiences is an important quality to have in life. It is fundamental in how we interact, form, and maintain positive relationships with others. Yet we can often overlook this valued attribute when approaching situations.
It also isn’t always easy to be understanding of others. Sometimes (if we are honest) it can feel incredibly challenging and frustrating. But being more understanding can enhance our existing relationships with others and help us to build new ones. Perhaps we can all learn something from being more understanding?
This article will focus on what being understanding really means and the benefits, how we can overcome difficulties associated with being understanding and some useful tips to help make yourself more understanding towards others.
- What does being understanding really mean?
- Why being understanding is so important
- How you can overcome the challenges associated with being understanding
- 6 tips to help you be more understanding
- Wrapping up
What does being understanding really mean?
To be understanding is a broad term we often use in everyday conversation and depending on the context can mean different things. If you were to ask one hundred different people what understanding means, there would likely be a variety of answers.
But what does it mean to you?
When ‘understanding’ is used as a term to describe a person it appears from different definitions that understanding people are:
- Accepting of others.
- Able to forgive.
- Aware of others’ feelings.
- Able to see things from different perspectives.
That seems an incredible set of skills for one word. Naturally, you may look at this list and rate yourself on how well you can do some of these things. Some you may even feel you can do better than others.
Maybe (like me!) depending on the person or situation, you have varying levels of sympathy or empathy. Which of course is completely natural and normal.
When we look at being understanding in relation to interactions, it can be defined as: "…a feeling of kindness and caring based on knowledge, esp. of the causes of behavior".
So, what is clear when we look at the meaning behind understanding is that it firstly involves a host of qualities. But it also highlights how making assumptions based on limited facts can harm our ability to understand others.
Why being understanding is so important
We can already see that being understanding means we are actively being kind, tolerant and sympathetic towards others which is great for our relationships. Logically, you may already see the benefits this might bring to your relations with others.
But how does it feel to be understood yourself? Understanding this may improve our motivation to make others feel the same way.
Being understood by others can make us feel:
- Valued and accepted.
- Part of a community or group.
- A sense of belonging.
- We have confirmation of our own identity.
In fact, many studies have confirmed the importance of being understood by others and the positive impact this can have on our personal well-being and relationships. A further study in 2008 found that people who rated highly in feeling understood during their daily experiences were shown to feel happier.
Therefore, being understanding can bring more life satisfaction and happiness to others. And when we receive this understanding ourselves, it can feel even better.
How you can overcome the challenges associated with being understanding
Interestingly, when we look at the set of qualities that comes with being understanding, they can often be seen as weaknesses.
Sometimes we can feel frustrated when we have shown a level of understanding to someone who is unappreciative. Or that person does not reciprocate the same level of understanding to you. It can often leave us feeling exposed and weak. Again, this is completely understandable.
But demonstrating some of the qualities that show understanding can actually make us feel happier and more content.
A recent longitudinal study carried out in 2019 found that people who had a compassionate disposition (meaning the ability to show concern and sympathy for others’ misfortunes) displayed both better mental and physical health over a lifespan.
So, despite how hard it can be, being understanding really does make us happier and healthier people. That is always something to remember during challenging times.
Of course, this is all very well, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that being understanding towards certain people and situations is difficult. We all have different values, experiences, and identities.
So perhaps having an awareness of our own understanding can help in this instance. And keeping a balance. There may be some situations in which we have been extremely understanding. But it needs to work both ways.
6 tips to help you be more understanding
If you sometimes find it difficult to be understanding towards others and would like to explore this further, have a look at some of these actionable tips.
1. Try perspective-taking
Perspective-taking literally means putting yourself in another person’s shoes. So, for example, when your partner is perhaps in a bad mood due to work commitments, instead of immediately being annoyed at their responses, try thinking of how you would feel in their situation. Would you also feel stressed and irritable?
As a former teacher working with children from vulnerable backgrounds, I became very good at this. Most of the students had extreme behavioral issues and poor behavior in class.
I really developed my understanding of these particular pupils when I thought about what they may have experienced or seen before arriving at school. How would I feel and behave in the same situation? Very similarly I would imagine.
Practicing perspective-taking can soon become part of your everyday thought process, and you can apply it to a range of situations.
2. Don’t make judgements too quickly
We are all extremely good at this. Making rash and ill-formed judgments based on pure assumption. Judging others is a simple (but short-term) way of making ourselves feel better. But it doesn't help you be more understanding.
So, to be more understanding, try and have an open perspective about others. Try to practice non-judgment. Over the years I have really had to force myself to develop this skill. Literally, stop yourself and that mental narrative that forms automatically, or at least, do not act on it.
Have you ever walked down the street and said ‘Good morning’ to someone, and they have responded in a way like you never imagined? People can always surprise you (in a good way!).
3. Listen and listen some more
Some people are fantastic listeners. Some not so much.
At times, people just want to feel heard. Just listening to someone without passing comments or judgment can be extremely supportive.
Again, by listening, we can build our knowledge on a particular situation first which as we have seen is an essential part of being understanding.
Here's an entire article devoted to how to be a better listener.
4. Ask genuine questions
Whilst listening is an important skill, by asking questions we can show people how well we can listen and help people feel heard.
To show someone we are really listening, ask some meaningful questions. When I say meaningful, make the questions relatable and with non-judgment attached.
5. Understand yourself
This is probably one of the most difficult things to do. But look at yourself and why you are finding it hard to be understanding of a particular situation. Look again at your own values and experiences and why you may be struggling with this.
A good example of this is of a person who I know who was undergoing grueling IVF. She said she found it incredibly difficult to then understand how some parents could ever give up their children for adoption.
See how your own past can cloud your ability to understand certain situations? We all do it, often subconsciously. Being aware of this may open your awareness of others and their situations.
6. Remembering we are not perfect
This is not one we want to hear… But we aren’t perfect. We all make mistakes as we go through life, and we all have to learn from them. Sometimes we need to be a little bit kinder to others and ourselves of course.
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Being understanding is one word to describe many qualities. It can be challenging at times, but it can also broaden our perspectives in life and improve the quality of our relationships. So, what happens when you have more understanding of others? We can ultimately be happier individuals and enjoy a more contented life. Perhaps if we all took this outlook, we could all contribute to making the world a happier and more tolerant place.
Do you consider yourself to be an understanding person? Do you often find it hard to understand someone else's point of view? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!