Socrates understood. Or did he fake it?

Iron law of life: We all want to be understood.

I say this all the time to my teams when pitching new business. Feeling that somebody gets me makes me feel more alive–and in a corporate setting, makes me want to hire you!

Fascinating piece last week from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center called What to do when you hate the one you love? which reveals that if we have a fight with our partner, but feel understood at the end, we aren’t mad. No lingering hostility. Satisfaction-wise, it’s like the fight never happened.

According to the research:

We found that when you feel understood, it signals to you that your partner cares about you and is invested in the relationship. It also makes you feel like your relationship is strong and worth fighting for. And in the end, feeling understood, especially when your partner has a different opinion than you, just feels good, plain and simple.

That’s forehead-slapping true. Being understood just feels good!

Into Guns N’ Roses 30 years after their prime–and your partner understands? Awesome!

Need to cry on your birthday every year for reasons you don’t know–and your partner is there for you? Fabulous!

The obvious response here is to always understand exactly what your partner is saying.

But come on.

Come ON!


We’re never going to fully understand our partner. Heck, very few of us mostly understand ourselves.

The piece offers some terrific tips on how to achieve understanding. Take their point of view, be compassionate, reflect on our partner’s positive traits, and a lot more good reminders which are important, but which we’ve heard hundreds of times.

Because you may never truly understand why your partner orients his calendar to astrological signs, or has mommy issues, or can be impressively resilient for physical tasks but shuts down at the first sign of conflict. I know that as much as I seek to understand my partners, there are some things I won’t ever understand, and they don’t understand themselves.

So why not fake it?

Remember, it’s not that we have to understand them. It’s that he or she FEELS understood.

There’s a difference!

In the business world, I sought to “understand” potential clients by diving into days of research reading up on reports and media coverage, talking to analysts who know the market and the company we’re going after, tracking down insights wherever they may be.

But in our private lives, that’s not as easy to find. There are no analysts for your husband or girlfriend, and media coverage on how to manage them, unless you’re Trump or Kanye, is usually scant at best.

Remember: you can contribute the same feeling of understanding whether you truly understand someone or not. All that matters is what your partner feels.

Again: why not fake it?

This is admittedly a delicate line to pirouette on. Some won’t take kindly to acting and many of us are terrible actors. All of us seek true understanding. And I think most of us want to get there, or at least in the neighborhood.

But if we can avoid damaging an awesome relationship by indicating understanding now, I can’t think of a good reason why not. Besides, behavior and attitude are linked. If we act as if we understand, we’ll probably start actually understanding at least part of the story. And we at least indicate our commitment and caring.

Best of all, our partner can help by telling us the specific behaviors that make them feel understood. I’ve heard that it’s shutting up, nodding, paying attention, and saying “I hear you.” Extremely simple stuff to go in your User Manual–and can make difference between having a ridiculously amazing relationship and one that nosedives into a volcano.

Share the love