Five Keys to Understanding Others

Do you want to understand others, but don't know how to? In this article, we give you five keys to achieving it.
Five Keys to Understanding Others

Last update: 18 May, 2022

Understanding others is important if you want to situate yourself in the world around you. It’s an ability that allows you to see the differences in other people and build representations that help you understand what they say and feel from their own perspectives. However, although understanding is an extraordinary and evolutionarily useful skill, it’s not that easy to apply.

The act of understanding is influenced by various factors that interact with each other. For instance, moods, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, values, etc. They all affect the way you’re willing to see and listen to the experiences of others. In turn, this influences the comprehensive process that takes you to their unknown dimensions.

How to understand others

Understanding others has been one of the essential factors in our evolutionary success. However, how can this skill be developed? Next, we’ll give you five keys to achieving it.

friends talking
Understanding others strengthens the bonds we have with them.

1. Observe them

Observing others doesn’t only mean looking at them, but also paying attention to them. It means that you’re fully available to what the other says, does, or feels. To develop this skill, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Analyze their gestures and body language.
  • Listen carefully to what they say and watch carefully what they do.
  • Match their words with your actions or expressions.
  • Identify the emotion they’re expressing.

Observation is a skill that you develop by practicing it in your everyday interactions. Therefore, it’s important that you’re attentive and that you devote yourself entirely to your meetings with others.

2. Listen actively

Active listening refers, not only to the act of hearing what the other says but also to the perception of how they express it. It means being attentive and aware of their emotional and cognitive background. For example, their beliefs, thoughts, and ideas that underly what they’ve said. When you try to put this skill into practice, be careful you don’t make the following mistakes:

  • Distract yourself from the conversation.
  • Interrupt them.
  • Judge them.
  • Provide help in an accelerated or premature manner.
  • Invalidate their emotions.
  • Focus on your own experiences instead of listening.

In fact, instead of the above, you must:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Smile if the situation allows it.
  • Reflect their expressions in a subtle way.
  • Paraphrase what they’ve said.
  • Summarize what they’ve just said to you.
  • Ask them questions.

3. Be empathic

Empathy involves understanding the feelings, ideas, and emotions of others, based on the recognition of them as similar to your own. In other words, it’s the ability to understand another person’s experience from your own frame of reference.

With empathy, you’re able to delve into the reality of others and understand their opinions without prejudice. As a matter of fact, the development of empathy is key to any interpersonal relationship. To be empathic, follow these guidelines.

  • Don’t judge.
  • Actively listen.
  • Watch for nonverbal cues.
  • Validate their emotions.
  • Respect their ideas.
  • Offer your support and collaboration.
  • Be assertive.

4. Connect with their experience

One of the keys to understanding others is to take care of your connection with them. Connection implies that you’re aware and fully committed to your encounter.

Awareness and openness are the means for you to get out of your ‘bubble’ and rejoin the experience of others. You should:

  • Take an interest in their lives.
  • Try to help them when necessary.
  • Be genuine.
  • Connect with yourself.
  • Be nice.
  • Listen actively.
women talking
To connect with others it’s important to step outside of yourself.

5. Turn understanding into compassion

It’s not enough for you to be left with just an understanding of someone’s experience. You also need to be able to use it to provide them with timely help.

Compassion implies an acknowledgment of another’s suffering and a genuine commitment to alleviate it. To cultivate compassion, follow these guidelines:

  • Recognize and accept their similarities and differences.
  • Be nice.
  • Practice empathy.
  • Open yourself up emotionally in order to connect with them.
  • Recognize their suffering.
  • Cultivate loving-kindness (the desire for everyone to enjoy happiness).

Understanding others is essential for the development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Indeed, searching for that deep connection that leads you to recognize the experiences of your neighbor is extremely important in society today.

Have you found that a lack of understanding has affected any of your relationships? How do you think that understanding others could enhance your interpersonal interactions?

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  • Hardee, J. T. (2003). An overview of empathy. The Permanente Journal7(4), 51.
  • Grumet, G. W. (1983). Eye contact: The core of interpersonal relatedness. Psychiatry46(2), 172-180.
  • Lama, D. (2019). El arte de la compasión. Debolsillo.
  • López, M. B., Arán Filippetti, V., & Richaud, M. C. (2014). Empatía: desde la percepción automática hasta los procesos controlados.