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Don’t look like this Chihuahua when under fire

How to make misunderstandings a win-win situation

Has anyone ever asked you a question that left you looking like this Chihuahua? Have you ever felt insulted when someone says, “Do you understand?” Or even worse, “You don’t understand”. There’s something about those words that trigger mental sirens to go off. You internally translate the words into, “You have no idea what you’re doing, you schmuck”. I’ve had this experience and it felt awful but in retrospect, it turned out to be a one of my biggest learning experience.


Several years ago I attended an executive business review. Imagine a conference room with amazing city views and sixteen people wrapped around an oval table. We were planning for the biggest organizational change the business had ever seen. The uncharted waters had everyone feeling excited and anxious. As the room collaborated on a plan, the executive sitting directly across from me looked straight into my eyes and said, “Do you understand the magnitude of what we’re trying to do?”  I suddenly sensed thirty eyeballs staring at me waiting to see how I would respond. My public reaction came with a calm, “Yes. I do.” But internally, I was a hot mess. His question insulted my capability and came from a place of doubt. I left that meeting feeling unassured and angry. That doubt and anger fueled my commitment to prove I could pull this initiative off.


A week later, I found myself overwhelmed with the growing complexity of the initiative. There were aspects I’d never considered like, comp plans, overlays and quoting. My aha! moment hit me. “Holy shirt! He was right. I didn’t fully understand.” I should have asked him for his questions instead of shutting down. My anger and ego got in the way. He had additional insights and information I wasn’t willing to see. His perspective could have saved me time, effort and frustration.

So what’s the learning here? When someone questions your understanding, it’s not an intelligence test. Instead, it’s an opportunity to question and learn or expand your perspective. Having a broader understanding, helps you make smarter decisions faster. So whenever you hear the word “understand”,  it means there’s an opportunity to learn. It doesn’t matter if it comes in the form of “Do you understand?”, or “Do you get it?” or, “They don’t understand.“ It’s a clue that someone has an opportunity to learn something. Changing how you react to the word “understand” is easier than you think. Play around with this week’s Life xSpearmint to expand your knowledge and perspective.

Life xSpearmint

For this weeks’ xSpearmint you’re going to turn on your radar for the word “understand”. It’s your trigger word for an opportunity to learn. You’ll be amazed at how often the word comes up in our conversations every day. This creates so many learning opportunities. So here’s what you do every time you hear the word “Understand”.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE: Physically acknowledge that you heard the word “Understand”. Examples: Say it out loud.  Tally the number of times you hear it in your notebook. Make the Aha! gesture.

2. CHALLENGE YOURSELF: When you hear the word ask your self a thought-provoking question. 

Examples: What do they see I’m not seeing? What’s the learning for me here? What’s my blind spot?

3. DISCOVER: Get people talking. Ask open-ended questions to discover as much info as possible.

Examples: What’s your understanding? How do you see it? What’s your perspective?

4. RESPOND: Craft a response that includes agreement, gratitude, and value.

a.) Agree with the common understanding.

b.) Thank them for new insights you didn’t consider.

c.) Add your two cents of perspective. Example: It might sound a little like this, “I agree with your understanding and appreciate your perspective on “X”. I hadn’t thought of that. The other thing we might consider is X, X, and X”.

It’s a win-win solution. They share. You share. Everyone contributes to the solution.

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