Listening and Understanding

I wanted to examine a critical skill involved in all interpersonal relationships, the demonstration of which seems to be significantly lacking as of late.  That skill is the use of self discipline when listening in order to understand one another.

There are those who seem to be able to communicate well enough casually or in the work environment, but listening to a more formal language escapes them.  It’s not that they’re stupid, usually far from it, but rather the implied meaning of words and their context is missed.  This misunderstanding can create opportunity for unnecessary conflict or drama.  I’m not sure if this is education, upbringing, neurological processing, etc., but I want to address it and highlight the importance of the discipline of Listening and understanding.

As par for the course, this post is not meant to be definitive or absolute, but rather address the overall theme outlined herein, and perhaps propose some viewpoints one may not have already considered or addressed.  So let’s start with trying to get on the same page by looking at our vocabulary – as language and thought are so incredibly intertwined.

Loaded Words

All of our words are “loaded” with meaning that is often assumed to be understood.  However, depending on our life exposure (a combination of upbringing, region, education, faith, etc) our understanding may vary widely.  In addition, our innate personality and neuroprocessing often presents a bias in how we interpret a word.  It’s no small wonder anyone is understood at all…

For Example:  “Acting” or “Act” – has around 30 enumerated meanings depending on use and context.  Summarizing or distilling this down to a “quick view” of common use provides us with:


  • serving temporarily, especially as a substitute during another’s absence; not permanent; temporary


  • the process of doing
  • anything done, being done, or to be done; deed; performance or activity
  • An instrument or document stating something decided, done or transacted.
  • one of the main divisions of a play or opera, a short performance by one or more entertainers

Verb (used without object)

  • to do something; exert energy or force; be employed or operative
  • to reach, make, or issue a decision on some matter
  • to operate or function in a particular way; perform specific duties or functions
  • to produce an effect; perform a function
  • to behave or conduct oneself in a particular fashion
  • to pretend; feign

Verb (used with object)

  • to represent (a character) with one’s person
  • to feign; counterfeit feeling or behavior; to behave as if

Verb phrases

  • act on /upon; act out; act up; get /have one’s act together


  • act funny; act one’s age; clean up one’s act

Context is Everything

If I were to then simply say “you enjoy acting in that role” someone might assume I mean “pretending/feigning” versus my intended meaning “the process of doing”.

If the listener assumes I meant pretending, that could trigger a very emotional response – especially if their perspective came from an emotional standpoint of heartfelt engagement and activity.  The emotion can feel as if I’m threatening their enjoyment with a judgment, or somehow belittling them through their choice. Left unrestrained, and the “internal flywheel” revs up to full speed, we now have the potential for a highly charged reaction – usually manifesting with a strong impulse towards hurt or outburst via “acting out”.  Very often I see this when someone may have developed the habit of “defensive listening” and is actively searching for a source of conflict.

On the other hand, if that listener can interrupt that trigger, and take another look at the sentence they could see I may have meant something else entirely – that I was actually making an observation and acknowledging their choice.  In essence, I was restating something said or observed to ensure understanding, which is a critical element of active listening skills.

If uncertain, the listener asking for clarity would be a most constructive response (the choice to hold off the impending outburst) so we can get to the same page and close any potential gaps in our use and understand of language.


When I refer to discipline I do not imply correction and punishment (or funishment).  I am referring to exercising the self-control and patience required of an individual to hold them steady and accountable for how they proceed, engage, choose, and act.  It’s a trained mindfulness about yourself and how you choose to proceed next.  Listening requires discipline to avoid potential emotional traps and be able to communicate and work constructively in a relationship.  In the above example, this would be necessary to:

  • Feel a trigger, but just noted it – not falling prey to it or losing self control
  • Pausing the initial emotional impulse in order to examine other perspectives, context, etc
  • Patience to re-read or review what was heard, to challenge the initial understanding
  • Clearing the mind to be able to ask the other for clarification without blame, accusation, etc
  • Quieting the heart so one may listen to the clarification and be able to take it in and consider it
  • Letting go of anxiety and vulnerability so one can move forward without carrying the burden of the experienced trigger or hold it against the other


In this world of texts, tweets, blurbs, headline scanning and emails – we have a HUGE opportunity to misunderstand one another.  Our understanding is different even when speaking type of language.  Our assumptions and emotional responses are from our past and life exposures that color our ability to receive clearly.  Before you let that internal emotional engine rev up with whatever emotional trigger has fired you up, choose to engage your discipline to create a better connection, a better understanding, and in the end – better relationships with those around you.

If we are to understand, we need to show the discipline required to understand.


-Sir Vice
Copyright 2014 Limits Unleashed LLC