I understand … another rant

I warned you, didn’t I?!

I hate it when people who have no idea what they are talking about make a vague and surface-y attempt to appear empathetic by saying “I understand.” Also, the tone is a big issue. When I am attempting to advocate for myself and demonstrate to someone how their behavior demeans me as a person and literally strips away my dignity as a human being and their response is a saccharine “I understand,” I see red.

In order to fully understand a situation, one actually has to have knowledge of said situation.

In order to fully understand the impact of your behavior, you have to ask questions.

When a person has caused a situation that demeans another human being and then receive an explanation as to how what they did made the other person feel, the appropriate response is something along the lines of … I had no idea, I’m so sorry, I have no words, I didn’t understand, How can I make this better. Not “I understand.”

Especially when the person asks no questions and made no effort to become familiar with the person they are speaking with.

I confess that when this happens, I am so triggered that my response is usually … “YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND” in a very loud and intense voice as the shouty capitals may indicate to a reader.

I think there is some coaching company or trainer that is training people to use these terms when dealing with an unhappy customer or, in my case, patient.

Well those coaches or trainers are fucking idiots.

There is NOTHING that gets me going more than a patently false and surface attempt at showing empathy.


When the customer or patient is scratching helplessly for some tiny acknowledgment that we are more than the illness that requires us to be a consumer of medical services and constantly have to deal with the broken medical system, the last thing we need is a bandaid. Sometimes I literally feel as though my intestines are pouring out on the floor, that every single part of me is exposed and available for others to see and sift through. When I get another call that requires me to adjust my life even more because of some silly “rule” that is more form than substance, I see red.

When I see red, I can’t not address it.

I know another trigger for me is that most of the time I hear these phrases, it is from a person who is a scheduler or a front desk person or some other low level employee. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had those jobs and they are important; however, in my experience, the knowledge level and understanding of the organization as a whole is not something that the employees at this level understand. They know what they know in order to do their jobs, not how the entire system works.

And so when someone who clearly does not really understand more than their own role or perhaps a little more, there is literally no way for this person to understand the impact or the affect of their actions or non actions.

Instead of saying “I Understand” the next time someone is talking, try the following phrases (unless, of course, you have been IN THE EXACT SAME SCENARIO AND ARE EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE PERSON SPEAKING):

  • I hear you — this phrase acknowledges that you are paying close attention to the concerns as articulated by the person talking.
  • Please tell me more — this phrase indicates that you want to understand the issues or details behind the person’s concern or objection.
  • What would be the solution that would help you the most — this phrase indicates that you want to hear from the person affected by whatever is going on and you really might be surprised by the solutions offered by the people receiving medical care.
  • Do you want me to offer a solution or do you need to vent right now — I suppose this is more for a friend rather than an employee of the offending organizations.
  • I don’t have the power or ability to help you, but I’m going to fine someone who can — I realize acknowledging that you don’t have the ability or power to fix something is hard to do, but when it’s the truth, that’s what should be said.
  • I didn’t understand how my actions would impact you, I’m sorry — there is no shame in acknowledging what is actually going on. No one can truly understand how they impact another person without more information and when you are given that information, it is necessary to simply say, I didn’t know.
  • That sounds just awful — every human being wants to be heard. We want to be seen. We want other human beings to pay attention. Rather than starting with being defensive, start with listening and hearing.

What else have I missed as far as an alternative response? What would YOU like to hear in a situation like this?

24 thoughts on “I understand … another rant

  1. I agree with you, when someone tells me that they understand what I am going through with my daughter’s health I say unless you have walked in my shoes you simply don’t understand.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I know what it is like to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I know what it is like to have both breasts removed. I know what it is like to wonder if this will happen again. I do not know what it is like to go through radiation or chemo. My cancer was caught early 15 years ago.
    What I do not like is when I share my story of sexual abuse at age 17 and people do not believe it was abuse. In some way I allowed it. In some way I caused it. In some way I should have been tougher. Fought more. Etc.
    People talk when they should just listen. I try and remember that too.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I had a similar situation at UC Davis and it made me so angry that it brought me to tears. I was just several minutes late getting to my appointment because my feet were so swollen I couldn’t find any shoes to wear. I called on my way to let them know I was running a little bit late. It was my first appointment with my new oncologist and when I got there the woman at the desk though I explain the situation to her called the doctors office spoke to a nurse and I was told that I needed to make another appointment after driving for an hour to get there. When I told her again of the situation and asked if she could please call the nurse back and ask if she told her what I asked her to tell her in the first place would they take me she said no she wouldn’t do it but she would send a note I begged her please do not send a note but actually call and tell her exactly what I said. Well not only did she not do it but she just send a quick email which I knew they would not get right back to me so I sat in the waiting room and had to compose myself. While I was sitting there the nurse who she spoke to actually came out and they whispered to each other pointing over their shoulder is him looking at me. The nurse was clearly on a break because my appointment got canceled. I have done all the pre-work with the appointment online so none of it had to be done which would’ve saved half an hour at least and I would’ve seen the doctor for a longer period of time how do you listen to me. She didn’t say I understand she didn’t say I hear what you’re saying she didn’t say anything like that all she did was look at me like I was crazy. Anyway longStory short I had to leave a new appointment in hand for a week later and I was in serious pain at that price as well so this was no laughing matter at all. It’s those kinds of things where when we’re in the situation that’s quite different from other situations where our pain and our bodies don’t do us any favors on a pretty regular basis and we don’t even get a nod or any kind of response it’s not only infuriating but insulting.

    “I hear what you’re saying. Let me see what I can do to help”
    “I understand. That sounds really tough. Let me call the nurse and see if I can’t explain the situation better.”
    “I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but the nurse is very strict on policies. Let me try to get her to come speak to you herself.”
    “I wish I could do something to help but let me see if my supervisor can do something.”
    “I really want to help but my hands are tied. Let me at least validate your parking ticket.”

    I had to come back in to get my parking ticket validated on top of it all. How angry it makes me to even relive it but I’m really interested in how you’d respond. I sat in the waiting room and called the doctors office myself but couldn’t get a human so I wrote the doctor on the MyHealth app. Nothing. I nearly threw the idea of including the cancer center in my healthcare but I’m glad I gave it another shot. I did forge a complaint against the receptionist and got a response on Twitter from the management. It’s never happened again. I wonder if there’s a flag for “complains to management watch your ass” in big red letters on my electronic files?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This is SO good…(and so bad that it happens so often). I especially appreciate the people honest enough to say they don’t have the authority to fix it but will get someone who can/or an answer and get back to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. People do say that but it’s not often meant in the literal sense, though to be fair, a callous remark like that can certainly trigger a hostile thought or outburst because nobody can understand the perplexities of another person’s life without actually living it.

    Sometimes a figure of speech can really hurt.

    I hope that your Tuesday is a good one for you 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s true, if only people with a comment could interact more responsibly life would be so much easier.


        Liked by 1 person

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