"What do you mean by that?" is a question that I don't think we use enough. As a Coach, I use that question multiple times a session, but in my everyday life, I sometimes find myself forgetting that I DON'T always know what the other person means when they tell me something.
We all see life and interpret it through our own filters, by what makes sense based on the life lessons we have learned along the way, BUT it's so important to remember that the person in front of you speaking did not live YOUR life and therefore their filter and interpretation is different from yours. Sure you can have people in your life who have had similar experiences and quite often that is what bonds us and creates a connection, but we still can't assume we know what someone means when they are expressing a sentiment.
For example, I was at the gym today with my new trainer. She has just moved over to work at my gym after working at a Women's only gym for many years (it has shut down). She wants to bring her current clients over to this new gym but it is co-ed, and some of her clients have expressed hesitation. She asked me how I would approach this hurdle, precisely one of her clients expressing "The equipment isn't made for women." This blanket statement about the equipment was a perfect example of an instance where the trainer may feel like "Oh that's easy, I know how to explain the equipment" and focus on that. However, there is a chance she might miss that what the client is really trying to tell her is that she feels: intimidated by new machines, uncomfortable working out with men around, afraid of being judged, etc.
So, I told her to ask her clients exactly what I ask all of mine- "What do you mean by that?"
There are so many reasons why this belief 'the machines aren't made for women' could be the one her client chooses to focus on. Like an onion, there are many layers to what is being expressed and felt. If you assume you know what someone means based on information from your own life you aren't actually connecting with the person or creating the space for a dialogue that could bring compassion, understanding, and guidance.
So next time you are sitting down with a friend, family member or colleague and they express something to you, pause and take yourself out of the equation for a second. Ask them to elaborate and give them the space to get curious with you. You might be surprised by what you learn and how awesome it is to connect with someone genuinely.
Take this a step further and ask yourself the same question- see how many layers you can peel back.