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  • Malcolm De Leo

It's your fault they don't understand


Everyone wants to be heard. It's fundamental. As we go through our lives, we are taught to speak up. We are told that speaking our mind is imperative if we want to get our point across. But what happens when we feel like no one can hear what we are saying? All of us have moments where we feel like we are speaking another language to others when we express our thoughts, needs or feelings. It can frustrating at best and core damaging at worst. But the question is this; who is to blame when others don't understand?


For many years, I believed that my own personal challenges with getting others to hear me focused on their inability to work with me to understand my point. And even though many of my unheard points, ideas, or suggestions would often go on to be extremely valuable, it didn't matter if the message was lost in the first place. Let's face it, most people probably feel this way at some point in both their personal and professional career. If there was every a video to capture how we feel when we are waving our arms in the air to get our ideas heard it's this...




We are told it's important to listen, and it is. Being a good listener is a critical skill, that is very obvious, but learning to hear when others don't understand is even more critical. Listening for when people aren't saying the same thing is as important has hearing what someone is trying to tell you. These "operational definitions" are the core of being heard. When two people don't understand each other, and don't realize it, nothing will get done. In most cases people start to get frustrated to each other which tends to build personal chasms.


Even though we need to work to hear differences, many times even when we know they exist, we still can't connect. And when this happens, something very important needs to occur. Rather than focus pointing the finger at those around you, you need to remember there are three fingers pointing back at you.


To simplify this even further...It's your fault they don't understand.


This may be a frustrating thing to hear, but over time I have learned that if I always put the onus on myself to try to find ways to learn how to adjust my style, I come out ahead. This means in any given situation one must focus on striving to understand other's modes of communication if we want our ideas to be heard, our impact to be significant, and to be given credit for the new ideas we work to bring to the table.


So what are some simple rules of thumb to make this a reality


  1. Operational definitions matter: While I wrote about this above, one of the most important skill needed to innovate in space is making sure that people are saying the same thing. If we are going to make it our fault they don't understand, then we need skills to build a bridge with others. Strong Operational Definition skills are a great place to start. To get good at this, it is best to start by listening to others talk. When you listen try to see if you can find moments they aren't saying the same thing. If they aren't, then you can jump in and ask clarifying questions to see if that is the case. If it is and you can show them they aren't saying the same thing you are learning to check operational definitions. And the reason I suggest you do it with others is in most cases you aren't as emotionally invested when it isn't you doing to bridge building for your own ideas.

  2. Believe in your ideas and don't ever quit: Sounds easy, but many times when you feel like no one understands what you are trying to say, we give up trying. Great innovators are often misunderstood and driving change is hard, so never quit. If you can accept it's your fault they don't understand, then it should be easy to keep trying. I have seen too many people blame others for their inability to make a difference and this is the poison of change. There is a reason you put yourself out there to get someone to listen to you, if they can't hear you and you can accept responsibility to help them hear what you are saying...you will keep trying.

  3. The person in the way is just one person: Not quitting or giving up when someone doesn't understand you doesn't mean you have one path to success. Often times we make the mistake of thinking there is one path to getting your idea heard. This is not true. Creating groundswell for an idea is not a monolithic affair. The principles of Evangelism qualify here. If evangelism is seeing a true north in the distance then coming back to today to build pieces that bring others towards that reality, then getting ideas heard is about many people not just one. Branch out. Find people who understand you. Enlist them to help you. Find people who know the key person to influence and let them be your muse. There are many paths to getting your ideas heard and since it is your fault they don't understand then find someone who does and see how they can help.. You don't have to go it alone.


There are so many rules and principles to driving change. Some of them are about us. Some of them are about others. Some of them are about the culture of many. Regardless of what the roadblock is on the road to change, if we don't take personal responsibility to be better at how we take in the world, see it from alternative angles and interact with it as a life learner, we will get stuck. And when we are stuck, we get frustrated, often feel hopeless and ultimately give up. Unstick yourself by always finding ways to challenge yourself to get better. And it is ok...but it is your fault they don't understand.



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