How to Think Better: agreement vs. understanding

While it certainly feels good when someone agrees with us, I think most are really looking for understanding.

Have you ever thought about the difference between seeking agreement versus seeking understanding? The distinction makes a difference—and often gets us in trouble.

Agreement is about control and being right.

I need you to agree with my point of view. I need to be validated. I need to be right.

  • Don’t you see my point?
  • Don’t you follow what I’m saying? (The subtext being: Can’t you just agree with me?)

When agreement is the only goal, true communication ceases.

We often believe our own view is so accurate—so right—that if the other person could only be made fully aware of our point of view they would agree.

When you’re an agreement seeker, there’s no room for differing perspectives. It’s black and white: Either you agree with me or you don’t.

When there’s no possibility of middle ground, discussions can quickly turn into arguments as the conversation becomes win-lose.

Understanding is not about agreeing or approving.

Understanding is about accepting differences and validating the right of another to have separate viewpoints and feelings.

One of the great things about the goal of understanding is it keeps you firmly on your side of the street where you can work to be understood and you can work to understand. Not over on the other person’s side trying to convince them of your rightness.

News flash: You can understand someone without agreeing with them. You can even understand someone without accepting the validity of what they’re saying. 

It’s liberating to realize I can understand someone’s point of view without believing the same or necessarily agreeing. It lets me keep my energy rather than trying to strong-arm them into my point of view.

Understanding. Agreement. You may not always agree, but you can always offer understanding.

What shifts or insights come out of percolating on this distinction? 

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