Have you ever been in a conversation where someone utters the phrase, “I understand”? How does it make you feel? In a friendly exchange, those words might foster a sense of connection or agreement. However, when emotions are heightened, they often evoke frustration. Have you experienced that before? Personally, when I hear those words, my initial reaction is, “No, you don’t actually understand.” In such situations, it feels as though the words downplay or dismiss what I’m saying. More often than not, they serve as mere fillers to transition to the other person’s agenda or to highlight how I’m mistaken, uninformed, or lacking comprehension. They certainly don’t make me feel heard or truly understood. (By the way, “I hear you” is closely related and has a similar effect.)

The words we choose hold significance, particularly in emotionally charged conversations. And when it comes to those two words, the impact is almost always negative. This morning, a salesperson used them after I posed a question, and immediately I knew I wouldn’t be purchasing what they were selling.

In such discussions, what truly leaves a positive impact is when we know the other person genuinely comprehends our thoughts and emotions. When they listen attentively, leaning in and asking questions, and then accurately restate our thoughts or emotions, we don’t require them to proclaim their understanding; we feel it.

So, the next time you catch yourself uttering, “I understand” in a meeting with a team member, client, or supervisor, try switching it up. Say, “Let me see if I understand…do you mean…?” and observe the difference it makes. If there’s a genuine desire to comprehend behind those words, my hunch is that the conversation will take a much more positive turn.

George Myers, who joined Effectiveness Institute in 2007, became the president of the company on January 1, 2019.

Read more about George here.