Understanding PieceWe are talking about building key relationships through understanding. In any relationship, our attention and consideration of what we know about a person fuels our understanding of their interests and actions.

Real understanding evolves over time. And while we never have all the information on another person, we are often operating from a serious deficit just when we need to be most successful.

Think of three key people in your life:

  1. A close, strong relationship in your family.
  2. A very good relationship at work—client, colleague, or boss.
  3. An unsatisfying (from problematic to bad) relationship at work.

Now take a deeper look at your understanding of each person.

 Five Questions for Understanding

To assess and enhance your understanding, Consider five questions:

  1. What is the foundational background of the person? Knowing some key aspects about the person’s early years, education, career, etc. can give you insight to current thinking and behavior. This is the question some of my clients miss or resist.
  2. With what does the person identify? Both personally and professionally, having a clue into how a person values his or her roles in life can be instrumental to your understanding and influence. Does he or she have a strong identity as a soccer coach, artist, entrepreneur, numbers-guy, etc.?
  3. What “kind of person” is he or she? This is a big basket of data, from the simple to the complex and ranging across many areas. Just answer the question. You may say to yourself, “he’s the kind of person who calls from the car.” Or, “she’s the kind of person who asks me for my opinion before revealing hers.” Or, “he’s the kind of person who can point to a spreadsheet and find the error.”
  4. What is important to him or her? Ultimately, this is the most important of the five questions. If you know what is important (big and small) to a person, you understand and can work with them much more effectively?
  5. What are his or her interests? Personal and professional interests can be the same or  different than what’s important. He may be interested in innovation, art, wine,  investing, a cause, etc.

Two Tools for Your Discovery

Take a look at your current state of understanding for the three types of relationships above. You can use these simple tools.

  1. 5 Questions Worksheet I often print this as an 11X17. Notice that you can add key aspects that you know about yourself as part of the assessment.
  2. Understanding  page my new Relationship Assessment tool. You will assess how well you understand the other person and how well you think they understand you.

When I assessed my understanding of three people, I was surprised by a few obvious patterns:

  1. For all three people I chose, I think  I understand them better than they understand me. Either I’m kidding myself or I don’t reveal enough about myself.
  2. For the people I have the most interaction over time, I have the best understanding. Makes sense, but highlights a vulnerability when I need a relationship with whom I have little interaction.
  3. I sometimes don’t even know key facts for someone who I have been working with for many years. Sounds like a good lunch topic.

It doesn’t take as much time as you think. Even 15-30 minutes can yield new insights. And, if what you find is that you don’t know much at all, that awareness can be invaluable.