“Help me understand,” is a great phrase to use in many situations when you want to open the door to meaningful conversations. When you use that phrase, it indicates that you’ve not made a definitive conclusion, but you’re open to learning more.

Sometimes this phrase can be helpful when you want to make a reflection or observation on what someone is telling you. “I’d like to share some observations, if that’s okay with you.” (Wait for permission.) “What I noticed was_____. This leads me to the conclusion that____, which may or may not be correct. Help me understand what’s going on.”

I’ve used this approach in coaching relationships: “I’d like to share an observation with you if that’s okay.” “Sure.” “I’ve noticed that with the last four assignments you’ve given yourself, you’ve not followed through. Help me understand what’s going on.” (After all, I hadn’t given the assignments– the client had decided those for himself.)

Sometimes the response is, “Wow, I’m so overwhelmed.” Sometimes there’s a legitimate problem going on. Other times the client just feels frozen. Once you know, then you can deal with the questions, “What’s paralyzing you?” and, “How can you get around it?” The phrase “help me understand” is a helpful diagnostic tool that allows you to get at the underlying issues.