#5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

The next habit discussion on my series on Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habit of Highly Effective People is habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  This habit is all about communication and more importantly how to communicate in a way that achieves a collaborative satisfaction with all parties.  In practice, this tool when carefully and efficiently utilized is our most important asset in achieving trust from our peers, the respect of our dependents, and the understanding of our superiors.

Covey explains that the most important skill in learning how to communicate with others is focusing on the development of our listening skills.  The analogy he introduces is “diagnose before you prescribe.”  If we go to our physician and he tells us what he believes the problem is without carefully listening to our symptoms or the nature of our discomfort, they cannot effectively treat us or tell us how to correct the issue.  The same is true in all conversations.  The term described here is called empathetic listening.

Empathetic listening involves placing a personal investment into the feelings of another person.  It’s about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and trying to gain a perspective on their point of reference.  It’s about giving value to their beliefs and opinions.  It’s a very conscious effort in listening with not only our ears, but with our whole being to truly understand what the other person is trying to convey.

In saying this, I should point out that this does not mean we always share the same opinions and beliefs.  “Seeking first to understand” comes with a follow up of  “then to be understood”.  When we give value to what a person is telling us, it creates an emotional deposit into that person’s trust account.  By showing someone that the way they feel is important, it is that much easier to generate a reciprocation of that understanding and creates an atmosphere of mutual influence.  This is a dangerous thought to many as it involves letting our guards down and staying receptive to having our point of view changed as well.  Such is the nature of trust.  A good tool presented is to restate the problem being presented back to the person so they know that you fully understand, then engage in an interpretation of the feelings regarding the statements made.

The second part of the habit is about how we can make ourselves more understood.  Here, we are given a clear pattern to follow that comes in a three part ideal.  First is our personal credibility.  This is making sure that we are speaking with expertise and not speculation.  Be consistent and trustworthy.  This builds respect and our sense of authority.  Next, speak to our audience’s emotional needs.  A good way to refer to this is appealing the senses of imagination or sympathies carried by the audience.  A good example of this tool is equating a similar story you share on the situation to show the audience that you can relate to the situation.  And last, practice the art of logic and reasoning.  Be able to support what you are saying with fact or tangible claims.  Without believability, you will not be understood.

Using these tools, we learn how to create a more flexible communication landscape.  We accomplish nothing without understanding the needs of both parties.  Seeking to gain an understanding for that needs that the other person is looking to have met will better serve in finding a compromise or to get the other person to be more receptive to understanding our needs.

~ by bfmooz on July 19, 2011.

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