Shared Understanding: How to Understand Someone’s Goals Without Agreeing To Them

If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool. ― C.G. Jung


According to New York psychology professors Gabriele Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer, goal projection is “the assumption that other persons share goals that we are currently pursuing.” This is a fairly common belief, but psychologists don’t seem to have a name yet for a related concept: We know what someone’s goals are, and we know we don’t support them. Worse, we know that his or her goals conflict with ours.

Both at work and at home, mutual respect is vital in creating a stable environment. We don’t have to agree with each other on everything, but we should maintain the decency to understand other people’s motivations so that they will in turn do the same for us.

Here are some tips to help understand other people’s goals even if when you don’t agree with them:


Effective communication is the foundation of any relationship, whether personal or professional. We all want to feel that we are heard and acknowledged.

We always think we’re right. But other people always think they are right, too. Actively listening to the opinion of others creates an open environment where everyone feels comfortable communicating what’s important to them.

Sometimes it’s more about being heard and acknowledged rather than about the goal itself.

Understand his/her underlying reasons.

“You don’t understand me!” is a go-to statement during an argument. And for good reason. You cannot expect someone to understand you if you refuse to understand him or her.

Look beneath the surface of the argument to get at the real reason for what is being said. In anger people will give you vital clues about what they’re thinking; you just have to know to look for them.

Learn to compromise.

Meet halfway. Do not make this into a personal grudge with the other person and keep an open mind. Evaluate the situation and agree on what to do. Many great things have been done after two or more equally big egos agreed to a truce.

For example, Fleetwood Mac had trouble recording their album Rumours because two of the members were going through a divorce while two others are also having an on-again/off-again relationship. However, they were professional enough to go on in making the album even though they were barely speaking with each other. The result? Forty million copies of the album were sold by 2009, plus they won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1978.

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