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Overusing “I Understand”

“Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

― Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

I Understand

Imagine a situation where an employee or colleague comes to you with a problem.  They have an issue and go into great detail of how they arrived in this particular situation, how they considered their options, what options they have eliminated, and are now down to a dilemma of choosing that final course of action.  They are looking to you to help.

And you respond, “I understand.” And then proceed to tell them what to do.

While we may not think we respond to this situation in this manner, many do.

And many of us may have found ourselves on the receiving end of the “I understand” response.

The Problem with “I Understand”

The problem is that it is impossible to actually “understand” from a one-time explanation.  How could you think you understand a problem without living through the entire process?

We are all relational people.

As much as we are looking for advice, we are also looking for empathy when confronted with a problem.  We want someone to listen and help rationalize what we have done.  We want someone to evaluate our process through a conversation and legitimize what we have done so far.

We want to feel like someone understands, really, thoroughly understands.  But to “understand,” business leaders and entrepreneurs need to engage in the conversation and feel the problem fully.

Using “I understand”

There are many different reasons why you might need to tell someone that you understand what they are saying.

Perhaps you want to make it clear that you understand the literal meaning of what they have said, for example, when you ask a teacher to explain what a new word means or when you ask someone for directions in the street.

At other times, you might need to show that you understand someone on a deeper level. That could mean that you understand them intellectually, meaning that their point makes sense to you: you can see why they think something, even if you disagree.  Or that you understand them emotionally, meaning that you know why they feel a certain way about something.

As a solution to overusing “I understand, “it’s good to mix up your vocabulary so that your response is more in-line with what your intentions are. Here are some other terms and phrases that you could use instead.

OK / Alright / Sure – a polite way to show that you are listening.

Got it. – another way of saying “what you want from me!”

OK, I get it now / That’s clear, thank you – it is now clear.

Fair enough / I see where you’re coming from / I take your point / That makes sense – this shows you understand and respect someone’s opinion.

Of course / Absolutely – you agree.

I appreciate why you think that, but… – you don’t agree.

I hear what you’re saying, but… – you are trying to see things from their point of view.

That’s totally fair / I don’t blame you – understand their feelings and point of view.

I know what you mean – use only if you have had a similar experience.

I would feel the same – you understand their emotions.

The Bible

We go to our friends and mentors for advice, empathy, and compassion.

What method they respond to us is as important as the technical words they use and the sum of the advice they give.  But what we desire most is for them to have a level of understanding and appreciation for what we have said.

For many, the Bible is that friend and mentor we go to for advice, empathy, and compassion.

Different from our human counterparts, the Bible always responds correctly.  The words God placed in scripture are alive and waiting for us to read them and let them sink into our souls.


Job 32:8 says.

“But it is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.”

2 Timothy 2:7 says.

“Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

And Psalm 111:10 says.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.”

The next time you go to someone for advice or are asked for understanding, know that the true response comes only from God.

 Don’t say “I understand” unless you really do.  Conversely, if you want to understand, take the time to learn, appreciate, and experience the problem so you can truly “understand.”