Letter No 81 - I understand, but I don't agree.

I had just completed a meeting with the entire management team of a fast growing organisation. The CEO had asked me to come on board as an adviser. I usually take up only one of two such assignments at a time because they are very intense. Growth takes up a lot of energy and creates a lot of turbulence. Growth is a messy affair. Our own organisation Enterprise India Fellowship itself is changing so fast and takes up a lot of mental and emotional energy.

But working with this organisation is a joy because of the openness, hunger and vision shared by the CEO and the top team. We had just spent the morning over a long call reviewing the financial performance and the upcoming goals of the organisation. Some important insights had been gained and some important decisions taken. Over the previous 3 to 4 months we had been implementing some new practises and systems in the organisation.

I was feeling very satisfied with the progress and the initiatives and also with the call we had just completed. We had handled it well and I was about to feel celebrative, when suddenly I received a message from one of the senior members. She was feeling very upset about the way I had handled some parts of the call. She felt I should not have said certain things in front of everyone else. I knew this person from a long time and I had never seen her so upset about anything. I was taken aback how diametrically opposite she was feeling about the call as compared to how I was feeling.

Anyhow, I heard her out completely. I wasn't agreeing with most of the things she was saying, but I patiently heard her. She was disturbed and quite angry. There was no sensible way to respond to her at that moment. I kept saying 'I hear you', and 'hmmmm', and 'I understand'. I felt genuine empathy for her. I could understand why she was feeling this way.

Here is the important part - I understood her anger and her thoughts about the situation, but I did not agree. I did not feel I had said or done anything that wrong. I double reflected on my words and felt reassured that I had not made any major blunder.

There is a huge difference between understanding and agreeing.


Just because I understand you, it does not mean I agree with you.

And, just because I don't agree with you, it doesn't mean I don't really understand you.

Both these realities can exist at the same time - I can understand you but not agree with you.

A few years ago I used to be a fanatic about running. I would go for long runs 3 to 4 times each week. I loved it. It was an addiction. I could not imagine how someone cannot love running. I could not imagine not having running as a hobby for the rest of my life. I would passionately advocate running to people I met. I could not understand people who did not regularly go out there and run.

I don't run any more. I've been on a low fitness phase lately. I'm not proud or happy about it. But thats the way it is right now. Today when I meet someone who is not working out regularly, or not running, or is in a low-fitness phase, I can understand how they are feeling. I can empathise. I don't agree on staying in a low fitness phase. I don't think it's a good idea, or even justified. I feel we need to shake ourselves up and get off our butts. But I can understand the state of mind. I empathise with how it feels to be there. Do you get me?


When I got the call from the lady after the meeting I mentioned in the morning, I was surprised. But I could understand her anger and frustration. I've been that way too. I could feel her.

Yet, I did not agree with her logic. I am willing to have another discussion with her when she is feeling better and analyse her concerns. I am willing to accept if I am wrong and make changes. But as of now, I don't agree.


There are several types of situations when we are confronted by someone, e.g.
  • You made a commitment and could not keep it
  • Someone had an expectation from you that you could not meet
  • Your friend felt hurt about some words you used
  • Your boss felt that you are not delivering to what you promised
  • You forgot your bestie's birthday and they are really upset

Next time you are confronted, or you make a mistake, remember that your first responsibility is to understand where the other person is coming from and how they are feeling and what they are saying. Your work is to understand, especially if you care about the relationship. You can decide whether you agree or not later. In fact you can let them know that you are trying to understand them, but you are not sure yet if you agree fully. You need more time to decide that. People will respect your honesty and respond to your effort to actually understand.

When we are angry or upset, it is very important to us that people around us understand us. We don't always need them to agree, but we always need them to understand. That is what anger is - it is an appeal - 'please try and understand how I am feeling!'

Anger is an emotion. It is not based on logic. It is an emotional need to be heard. Yes it may be triggered by a logical flaw or an objective reality, but the source of anger is always emotional.

If you can remember and practise this, you will have a superpower. You will be able to handle all types of situations and all types of people. You will have the makings of a great leader.


Here are a few specific tips you are remember next time you are dealing with people in high intensity situations:

'I hear you'
'Please tell me a little more about why you are feeling this way'
'I really want to understand your response to this'
'I do understand what you are saying'
'I need some time to decide if I fully agree with you on this'
'Please let me more about how this is making you feel'

If you feel you are wrong, just apologise and move on to make the necessary amendments. Don't get into the trap of justifying yourself. If not, understand them, and take the time needed to formulate your response. Remember, you don't have to agree.


As we are bringing new ideas, people and challenges to the Enterprise India Fellowship, there are times when I feel angry, irritated and impatient. There are times when I expect too much or my expectations are incorrect. There are times when I become negative or angry. Like I said, growth is a demanding journey and an unfaithful companion. It can change anytime. Staying cool and staying focussed is important. Not allowing other peoples words or responses shake you up too much is important.

Do you know of any other approaches to handle situations when you are feeling easily anger-able? I would love to hear your suggestions.

In fratitude (friendship + gratitude)