In disagreements, the difference between a smooth flowing conversation and a fight, often comes down to how each of the participants subconsciously move between “knowledge” and “understanding”.

A wise man will always place understanding before knowledge, viewing understanding as the key to knowledge. He is not only concerned about what he already knows and understands, but by thoughtful conversation will get to understanding the other person and so draw out the knowledge that the other person has. As a result, the wise man ends the conversation with both his own knowledge and the knowledge of the other person. Realising his own knowledge is not complete, he will seek to understand the other person and so add the other person’s knowledge to his own.

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,

Proverbs 15:14 (ESV)

A fool, on the other hand, will place knowledge before understanding. Not full knowledge of the situation, but his own knowledge. He cannot conceive of any other knowledge of the situation than his own, and subsequently never seeks understanding. He does not care for what can be knows, for he only seeks what is already known by himself. He does not care to understand another, but persists in others understanding him.

The difference is really striking in the actual conversations between the proverbial wise man and the proverbial fool. The conversation might start a dozen different ways, but the way it continues quickly exposes the level of wisdom or folly present. The wise will speak from his own knowledge, but at the same time sense when the other has said something that either opposes or complements his own knowledge. The wise will then seek to understand the other’s saying, even if it was merely spoken as a foolish reaction. The wise will sense when the conversation switches from general truths to specific objections, or when a generalism is used to deny a specific issue. The wise will keep the initial topic in mind, while still seeking to understand the other tangents that the other might bring up. Even if the conversation changes to a completely different topic, the wise will seek to add to his own knowledge the knowledge of the other person. Even if the wise can never return the topic to the original matter, he will still have gained knowledge because of he was intent on seeking understanding instead of merely pouring out his own opinions.

The fool is not so. He will presume an understanding of the other’s statement, and pour out his own opinion on the matter (Pro 18:2). Instead of gaining the knowledge of others on topics that he had not been thinking about, he will change the subject to something he has thought. He loves to quarrel more than he loves to understand (Pro 20:3). He will use the 1% of error in a statement to deny the 99% of truth in the statement. He will use the exception to ignore the rule. He will criticise the whole by a disagreement with a part. He will impatiently interrupt before another can make their case (Pro 18:13). He will impatiently formulate an opinion before he has heard it all (Pro 18:17).

In all your relationships, especially when in conversation with one another, seek understanding. Then you will gain knowledge. Then you will gain the insight into another’s heart to be a better friend, parent, and spouse.

An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Proverbs 18:15 (ESV)