I am always suspicious when someone posts “read this it will change your life” or “watch this it will change your life.” I usually will read the post or watch the clip expecting that some major transformation will occur in my life but alas, I am left with that thought of maybe I am missing something here but this item fell way short of a transformation experience.

So why am I making such a claim? In my experience, using these three words are truly a game changer. OK let me give you the three words and then we can discuss the why. Here they are: Help Me Understand.

I know you are probably looking at these words saying, “Transformational? I think not.” But before you dismiss this, let’s look at why these are so critical in the communication process.

By nature, I think that many of us are problem solvers. We want to use our expertise, education, etc. to solve problems that are brought to us. When we do so we feel that we have made a contribution and have helped the person in some way.

The dilemma is that often times we are solving a problem that we think we understand. Do we really have a great understanding of the situation?

Our potential lack of understanding of a situation results in further complicating the situation and often times frustration on the part of both parties that they are not being fully heard or understood.

Stephen Covey, the leadership guru, wisely puts in his writings that a critical trait of leadership is seeking first to understand what is being said. Einstein was once asked if he had 60 minutes to solve a problem, how would he use the time? He said he would spend 50 minutes understanding and defining the problem and 10 minutes in the solution. How many of us would spend just the opposite-10 minutes in problem identification and 50 minutes in a solution.

When we use the words “help me understand” we are asking the other person assistance in helping to clarify the message. These words are an inquiry and lets the other person know that we are genuinely interested in what they are saying. Using this phrase along with a restatement of what you are hearing are two critical tools in the communication toolbox.

Case Study: Jim is the senior manager for an engineering company. He has 5 direct reports all whom have long tenure with the company. Jim has been troubled by the performance of one of his reports, John. John frequently goes to Jim with problems that Jim feels John should handle. When Jim asked me for assistance, I recommended that next time John approaches with a problem, Jim should refrain from problem solving and simply listen and ask questions. I also recommended that Jim not solve the problem for John but rather help John come to his own solution. Jim agreed to try on this process. Several weeks later I asked Jim what happened with John. Jim stated that it was hard for him not to jump in and solve Jims problems but he took my coaching and helped John work through whatever issue was being discussed. While both felt uncomfortable with their new interaction and while there were tendency to fall back into their former communication patterns (note: a future blog will center on the difficulty of changing roles) , Jim responded that he was quite pleased with the growth in John and the change in their relationship.

Your homework: When you are finding yourself rushing to solve a problem, give information or respond to a situation, use the three words and then listen. Let me know what happens.