Seeking to Truly Understand

Have you ever thought about your approach to other people, to events, and to the greater world around you?

How often do you find yourself actually asking questions and taking an exploratory stance or position; i.e. trying to learn and to truly understand?

How about the other people in your life? Do you notice the ones who really seem to want to understand where you’re coming from as well as more about the greater world around them? How do you feel about them? My guess is, it’s a positive feeling.


I think that we are all constantly tempted to assume, categorize, generalize, pigeon-hole, and otherwise quickly and expeditiously dispatch with what people say to us and what is happening around us in our lives.

Think about it for a moment.

Can you remember the last time you and your spouse DIDN’T give each other a quick, one or two word answer or comment in response to something the other person said? How about the last time you asked each other some questions about what was being said in order to help clarify and to learn more about the other person and what they were really meaning, feeling, or thinking?

“Honey, I’m a little worried about next week.”

“Oh, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

Wow. What do you notice about this little interchange?

What is evident to me is that the first person stated that they were worried, and the second person simply made a comment. Now there may be several reasons why they did that.

Maybe they just needed to make themselves feel better, so the comment helped end the discussion.

Or perhaps they felt that by saying, “don’t worry, you’ll be fine”, they had helped and addressed the other person.

In the end, they probably meant well, but were simply unaware that there is a different way.


When we seek to truly understand people, events, and life in general, we must ask questions. This behavior, as opposed to commenting right away, is literally a paradigm shift for most of us.

Asking questions does several important things.

First, it engages the other person.

Second, it allows and helps the other person to think through the topic at hand.

And third, it gives both you AND the other person the satisfaction of feeling that more has been truly understood and communicated between you than maybe might have been in the past.

Let’s take that last one again because it’s so important:

It gives both you and the other person the satisfaction of feeling that more has been truly understood and communicated between you.


It is VERY important to most of us that we feel understood, at least and perhaps especially by the people we care about and who care about us.

Children, for example, grow quiet upset when they are feeling misunderstood by their parents or siblings. And when they are first born, it is literally vital to their very survival that their needs (i.e. and thus they) are understood by their caregivers.

When we grow up, we are still yearning to be understood, and, in a way, on a subconscious level, we still feel it to be vital that we are understood. Thus the immense emotional importance of feeling understood and the buildup of disconnect and resentment if we are not.

When my spouse says something to me and I make a quick, summarizing, or concluding comment in response, quite often I have not fully understood her, nor has she felt fully understood by me.

The result, over time, is disconnect and loss of emotional trust. Eventually, resentment ensues.


The way I see it, if someone, especially a loved one, goes through the trouble and expends the neuronal energies of putting thoughts together and transporting those thoughts from their brain, through their nervous system, and to their mouths, then I should at least make a deliberate effort to understand what motivated those thoughts and, ultimately, those words.

Doing so is also a sign of respect, and a sign of caring for and about that individual. It builds trust and it builds the kind of emotional connection which builds healthy and mutually supportive relationships, which is what we humans thrive on.


You can remember to get into an exploratory or learning stance with someone by following my simple mnemonic, LVAC®, which stands for Listen, Validate, Ask, then Comment last, if at all.

By doing this, you will automatically switch into exploratory mode, and you will help yourself bypass that natural human tendency to want to Comment first.

Children Comment first, and it’s okay. Emotionally competent adults (like us!) really do need to learn to Listen, Validate, Ask, and Comment last.

In other words, we adults need to learn that we need to first learn. We need to seek to understand.


Someone once told me that good advice has to fulfill two criteria: first, it needs to be as timeless and as universal as possible, and, second, it needs to be simple and true.

Using these two criteria, I want to give you this simple advice: Do not make it a habit to assume.

When a loved one, or anyone else, talks to you, don’t automatically assume you know what they are talking about.

Instead, Listen to them and Validate what they’re saying to you with a simple head nod or “uh-huh” so they’ll keep talking to you and explaining themselves.

Then, by all means, use your voice and your command of the language to Ask them some questions.

This way you can be sure that you’ve given them the chance to express their heart to you and that you BOTH will come away feeling closer to one another and better understood.

Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)


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