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How To Translate What You Need So Others Can Understand?

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

How many times have you tried to explain what you need or want, only to realize that your team, partner, clients, family, colleagues, and/or friends don't really 'get' it? How many times have they asked you for what they need or want *and* it simply doesn't compute in your mind, heart, or spirit? How often have you or others taken that as confirmation that 'no one cares' or 'they just don't get it' or 'you just keep missing the point'? How vital might it be to translate your needs and wants, as well as understand others' needs and wants to have them met while navigating in-between moments? How might the situation change if you're all speaking the same language when facing chronic overwhelm, change, challenge, and/or opportunity? Yes, there are people out there who are committed to misunderstanding you/others. And. My bet is that that's not the case for most people. I know... risky bet... but hear me out.


Recently, I've been reading "All About Love" by bell hooks in small bits at a time because it keeps rocking my world. Part of what she explains in this masterful work, which I 100% cannot do justice to in a short article and 100% invite you to read, is that we hurt each other because we're not speaking the same language. She explains that A might mean blue to one person and green to another. So, when both people keep talking to each other about A, it sounds like they're talking about the same thing while that's *fundamentally* incorrect. Now, replace "A" for a word like collaboration, love, success, power, legacy, responsibility, or loyalty. Chances are that, even as you read this, these words are easy for you to recognize and define. The same goes for me as I write them. I want to understand you and, if you've read this far, chances are that you want to understand me.


And *yet*, what are the chances that our definitions 100% match 100% of the time for 100% of these words? At this point, chances are that there is enough context that we can get by. At the same time, how about we make it easier and more effective? I invite you to consider 3 phases when intentionally translating what you want/need *and* when doing your best to understand what others' need/want:


1. Starting point: be explicit, aka be clear, about what you want/need by describing the definition you're using. And. Get clear about the definition others might be using.


Let's that your A stands for love, for example. bell hooks shares psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s definition of 'love' as "the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth".


Question to consider: how does clearly establishing a shared definition of the topic at hand or a shared starting point support translating your wants/needs, as well as someone else's?


2. Process: take a moment to think about your audience's language and get curious about how you might use words/analogies/parameters/examples/themes that they already understand to get your point across.


Disclaimer: this process is not one of diluting your wants/needs to make these palatable for others by self-abandoning or self-betraying. It's the compassionate opposite. You're still making your needs/wants clear. This is the opposite of self-betrayal or self-abandonment. It's compassionate because you're also meeting your team, partner, clients, family, colleagues, and/or friends where they're more likely to understand. Sharing a definition of what you mean by A in language that they can understand is more likely to help everyone involved feel seen, heard, and/or understood.


Question to consider: how might meeting yourself and others with compassionate translation help you each have your needs and wants met earlier rather than later?


3. Goal: be clear about why putting time and energy into this process matters for yourself and for others.


Yes, it does require time and energy to develop translation as a skill. And. The reality is that facing chronic overwhelm, change, challenge, and/or opportunity will require time and energy either way.


Question to consider: how might putting this effort in on the front end be worth it when meeting your/their wants/needs?


For more support chronic overwhelm, change, change, challenge or opportunity, check out the full series on this blog page !

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