SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
(Author Stephen Covey)
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood®
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply.” ~Stephen R. Covey
One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to two individuals conversing who think they are disagreeing, but in fact they are both saying the same thing. They just don’t know it because both are focused on getting their viewpoint across and not on understanding the other person. Sometimes a third party intervention is the only way to get them to stop and listen.
What does “Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood” mean?
We’ve all been there. The other person is talking and what are we doing? We are formulating in our head how we want to respond. Our first syllable blends into their last, and round and round we go. In conversations, especially ones in which there are disagreements, we are eager to make sure our voice is heard.
We know that communication is more than just words. Tone, body language, and facial expressions give meaning to what is being said. Truly understanding someone requires our full attention on their whole person. That is a lot of information to take in and process. If we are busy processing our own thoughts and emotions, we will miss a big part of their meaning and intentions.
When we listen with the intent to reply, we filter what is being said through our own lens. Our brain automatically reframes the input using the schemas we have built and lived through in our own lives. Consequently, we assume we know what the other person means or needs before they have thoroughly expressed themselves. We can find ourselves offering advice when none was sought, leaving our conversation partner feeling misunderstood and frustrated.
Seeking first to understand is not easy. It requires us to step away from our own bias and needs. It requires our full concentration and the ability to seek out a full comprehension. Only after we have done this do we “reply”.
How does this apply to my personal and professional life?
Relationships cannot exist without communication. Whether we are speaking with a family member, friend, co-worker, or customer, everyone wants to be understood. Everyone has a need for their voice to be heard and their thoughts to be valued. When we validate that need by first seeking to understand, we travel into the seed of human desires and connect with them at the core of who they are. A true connection can develop that establishes trust and a feeling of unconditional acceptance. A value cannot be placed on a trusted friendship. In business, becoming a trusted advisor to our clients and employees establishes long lasting relationships in which there is mutual benefit.
What can I do?
Seeking first to understand involves active listening. Active listening is something that many counselors are trained on in the mental health field. That is a field that requires trust to first be established between counselor and client before help can be given or received. Active listening is conveyed through non-verbal and verbal means of communication. Smiling, nodding, making eye contact, the way we are sitting all convey to the speaker we are engaged with them.
Verbal responses include asking questions for clarification, reflecting what they are saying, and positive reinforcement where we agree. Reflection is perhaps the most effective of these as it allows the speaker to hear back how we are receiving their message. They have the opportunity to feel understood or to correct any misinterpretations we may have. We show our focus is on them and that we truly want to connect and understand them.
It goes against our natural inclination to help others, defend a position, or assert ourselves. “Seeking first to understand” is a skill that must be honed over time. Practice of this essential skill can reap a vast reward in our relationship driven world.
~ Erin Counter, Operations Manager ~