Say it with me, Covey fans…
“…Then to be understood.”
I have read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People countless times, yet I am always amazed at just how much I can use the refresher. The principles are so basic, so intuitive, and always so relevant to whatever environment I’m currently in. They’re also profoundly simple, yet they can require incredible effort to keep top of mind and actually practice in our daily lives.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is listed in the book as Habit #5, and it is one that Steven Covey himself acknowledges often becomes “the most exciting, the most immediately applicable, of all the Seven Habits.” He also says that this principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication.
I believe he is right.
How often do we become frustrated with others because they just can’t seem to grasp what we’re telling them? Or because their priorities don’t align with ours? We don’t understand the communication breakdown, and often we react with impatience, condescension, irritation, or complete bewilderment. We think, “Why does this have to be so difficult?”
These difficult people clearly don’t get us, and we don’t get them.
But what if that weren’t the case?
Could it be that, in these situations, we’ve got it a little backwards?
Covey says that we typically seek first to be understood. (Anybody else busted on that one? )
We (mistakenly) assume that others should see things just as we see them, yet every single day we experience evidence that is completely contrary to that assumption. We butt heads or disagree with people because they don’t immediately see things the way that we do. We get frustrated with them for not seeing things from our point of view, yet we don’t bother to attempt to see things from their perspectives.
Covey encourages us to practice “empathic listening.” Instead of listening with the intent to reply, we should listen with the intent to understand. “Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel,” he explains.
He continues, “Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretations, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart.”
How often, do you think, that the viewpoints of others might make a little more sense to us if we just took the time to listen, question, and attempt to fully understand where they are coming from? Is it possible we might realize that they are not as unreasonable as we previously thought they were? Is it possible that, when we understand more about where each one of us is coming from, we might be able to have more meaningful conversations? Could we work together more effectively towards a common agenda from the same side of the table instead of from opposite ends?
We can apply this principle to any of the relationships we have, both in our personal and professional lives.
Covey says that communication is the most important skill in life, and, again, we intuitively know that he is right. He also says that the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, and to be appreciated. If we want these needs satisfied for ourselves, then we should first do our part to ensure that we are meeting those needs for others in our lives. And when we do… guess what? They want to do the same for us!
To borrow another phrase from Covey…. I call that a Win – Win!
Could your organization benefit from helping people understand both themselves and others better? LEGEND Talent Management can help teams become more productive by learning more about their own styles, the styles of their teammates, and how to work together more effectively.