Why It's Important To Understand People - SACAP
Applied Psychology

Why it’s Important to Understand People

Nov 21, 2023 | By Saranne Durham
Psychology students studying in college library to understand people

To understand people doesn’t mean you agree with them. Rather it means that you are able to recognise their feelings and perspective on something. Part of understanding someone else is being able to accept that their point of view may differ from yours. This can be tricky at times. Especially if it means that they have chosen to do something you disagree with. Or alternatively, you want to do something someone else doesn’t agree with. Understanding others is an important skill to have and usually the starting point of connecting with others. In fact, many believe that being able to understand others is as valuable, if not more valuable, than knowledge.

Can Skills Affect Your Ability to be Understood and to Understand Others

How skilled you are at understanding someone else will impact how well someone else is able to understand you. For example, good communication skills enable us to pass on information effectively as well as convey information efficiently. How good we are at introspection affects how well we understand ourselves and thereby how well we can comprehend others. Additionally, our ability to ask questions and think about situations further impacts our understanding.

Our skill at understanding others and being understood advances as we get older and develop additional cognitive capacity. There are 5 kinds of understanding that are mastered from ages 0 to +21 years. These impact how we understand ourselves, others, and the world around us.

5 Kinds of Understanding

  1. Somatic (birth – 2 years): Mastery of copying physical activities and non-verbal appreciation of the world.
  2. Mythic (3 – 7 years): Mastery of verbal communication, understanding of oral language and its nuances including a sense of right and wrong.
  3. Romantic (8 – 14 years): Mastering literacy and writing as well as conventional skills such as understanding how to get along with others. As well as understanding perception, limitations, and extremes of human potential.
  4. Philosophical (15 – 20 years): Understanding abstract ideas. This links to understanding one’s position in the world and sorting through relevant facts in relation to one’s life theories.
  5. Ironic (21 years onwards): Ability to be sceptical and reflect on facts and stories, thereby creating an understanding of one’s self, others, and the world.

At each age, we develop skills to understand in deeper and more diverse ways. This helps us find our place in the world around us. It also enables us to better relate to others and the context we find ourselves in. By being able to do this we can understand both ourselves and other people better.

The Different Ways of Understanding Someone

We understand someone, something, or a situation in relation to ourselves by asking questions. These questions we ask in relation to ourselves. 

There are three different types of understanding:

  • Propositional understanding: Understanding what in relation to someone or something. 
  • Explanatory understanding (aka understanding-why): Understanding why in relation to someone or something.
  • Objectual understanding: Understanding of information or subject matter.

Thus, by asking questions of what, why and how we are able to assimilate new information and act accordingly. In asking these questions about someone, or a situation we find ourselves in, we gain a better contextual understanding. And in so doing gain a better understanding of the other person. This assists in our ability to communicate with them, which is an essential part of building relationships.

Why it’s Important to Seek First to Understand then to be Understood

In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, understanding someone before being understood is habit #5. It’s important because connecting and building deep relationships with people requires an understanding of what they feeling and are saying. Empathetic listening is the skill that’s required to understand what someone’s saying and then reply. When you do this there is less likelihood of conflict and a fostering of trust and respect. 

Approximately 6200 thoughts churn through our minds every day. The result is that even when someone is talking, we are likely to be thinking about something else or what we want to tell them. This is the reason why empathetic learning is a skill – it requires practice to focus and listen to what someone is saying. And even more so when you take into account that 70-93% of a conversation is non-verbal. This means that, in addition to paying careful attention to their words, you need to be watching what they saying too.

Types of Communication

The purpose of communication is to convey information to others. There are two primary ways of communicating. Verbally and non-verbally. Some people are naturally good at communicating, while others need to work on their skills. 

Verbal communication encompasses written and spoken interactions. Non-verbal communication is also called body language. It can be more difficult to understand as, unlike verbal communication, it’s not usually taught. It can also be complicated because it is culturally influenced. Body language is what we communicate to others without words using our bodies. Sometimes it’s subtle, like turning away a little from someone we don’t agree with. Other times it’s overt and we touch someone to let them know we support them.

Types of Body Language

  1. Eye Contact.
  2. Facial Expressions.
  3. Gestures.
  4. Posture and Body Positioning.
  5. Touch.

Something that’s important to remember is that non-verbal communication is a two-way street. As such, the person talking to us is often continually evaluating if we are actually listening. Thus, without knowing it we may be telling them that we are ignoring what they trying to say to us. Or alternatively, we are likely to misunderstand them because we haven’t heard all of their viewpoints. Therefore, when someone isn’t really listening to someone else, they could inadvertently foster feelings of upset, anger and agitation.

Why Understanding Someone is Important

Being able to understand others is an important part of being able to function within society. It impacts how we relate to the people around us, at work and personally. It impacts the quality of our relationships and ultimately our overall wellbeing.

How do You Improve Your Understanding

One of the best ways to improve your overall understanding is to study. SACAP offer numerous courses that can assist you with this through our Applied Psychology Faculty. These courses range in focus from psychology to counselling and communication. Apply online today to start broadening your understanding of the world around you and the people you meet.

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