Speaking To Be Understood


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The other night, my sixteen-year-old son and I became frustrated with each other because I could not understand a probability equation the same way that he did.

Now, I am going to admit, he is in grade twelve mathematics, top of his class, and probably headed for a career that will utilize the equations that he was so desperately trying to convince me of, and I am not. I am years, if not decades away from remembering, let alone understanding the math that he is delving into, but as smart as he is, he could not explain it to me in a way that made sense to me.

This got me thinking. How many times do we fail in communicating to others what is so obvious to us? How many times do people leave conversations saying that they understand, but instead do not want to admit that they do not understand? How many times does this lead to frustration, both on our parts, and theirs, and creates environments of mistrust?

Unfortunately, far more times than any of us care to imagine. Whether we are speaking to members of our family, friends, co-workers, clients, vendors or others, if our language does not resonate with those we wish to speak with, and our audience does not comprehend what we try to explain to them, the failure is ours and not theirs.

As human beings, it is our goal to get people to listen, understand and value our opinions, but we can only do this by understanding that people think differently, come to situations with different biases, levels of understanding, and cultural differences. Each of these can throw up roadblocks in our ability to communicate effectively and be understood. If we do not understand the context into which we are trying to communicate, we will most likely do so ineffectively.

So how do we solve this?

We need to listen and watch for clues that our methods of conveying information are either being understood or not. We need to look for the non-verbal references that show us that people are not understanding and need further explanation, and we need to realize that if people are not understanding, more than likely, we are not communicating effectively.

What are the ways you can do this?

The first thing you can do is have people repeat back to you what you said in their own words. Have them explain the idea back to you in ways that make sense to them.  Use phrases like “if you had to explain this to someone else now, how would you do it?”  Very quickly, you will be able to determine if the person understood what you were saying or not.

Another method is to ask the person, “how does this impact you?” By making this personal, and asking them what the consequences are of what you tried to explain it to them, you can quickly determine whether they understand the situation or not.  If they do not, your next step is to ask them a question like, “how can you use this information to make your life better?” By diving deeper, you will be able to determine quickly whether the person understood or not and be able to re-focus the conversation to help them meet their goals.

Insurance is a complicated field. The language is technical, the verbiage is dense, and the majority of people who you sell to would rather keep quiet than let others know that they truly do not understand. It is your role to help change that. To speak in the language of your clients, to use examples that are relevant to them, to check in to make sure that they are understanding and to enable them to ask questions in ways without feeling like they are inadequate and uneducated.

Stay away from acronyms and industry speak. It is not your job to show people how technically smart you are; it is your job to explain things in ways that other people understand and help them make decisions based on knowledge and not fear of being perceived as uninformed.

Ask your clients, “how do you feel about this?” and “what have I said that is not crystal clear to you?”

That is our job. To help people understand what they do not and feel comfortable knowing that the decisions that they make are based upon understanding and trust and not fear and feeling inadequate.

Speak to be understood! It is so important because by doing this, you build trust, loyal employees, clients, vendors and people who will refer their friends and family to you time and time again.


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About Ben Baker

Ben Baker wants to help you engage, retain, and grow your most valuable asset … your employees. He provides workshops and consulting to enable staff to understand, codify, and communicate their value effectively internally and externally and Retain Employees Through Leadership. The author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and the host of the IHEART Radio syndicated YourLIVINGBrand.live show, he writes extensively on leadership, brand, and internal communication strategy.

2 thoughts on “Speaking To Be Understood”

  1. Your son sounds like a budding actuary! My father was an agent, and was convinced the actuarial career was perfect for me. I was not convinced by him…. If your son wants to talk to someone about why he should consider an actuarial career, have him contact me!


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