Last week, our discussion of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster) shifted from the private victories (Habits 1-3) to the public victories (Habits 4-6). In my opinion, the fifth habit, the subject of this week’s blog, is the ultimate public victory because it is a critical skill in connecting with and LEADING others.
Habit # 5 – Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
” When we listen with the intent to understand others, rather than with the intent to reply, we begin true communication and relationship building. When others feel understood first, they feel affirmed and valued, defenses are lowered, and opportunities to speak openly and to be understood come much more naturally and easily. Seeking to understand takes kindness; seeking to be understood takes courage. Effectiveness lies in balancing the two.”
In most conversations, we don’t really listen when the other person is speaking. We are too busy formulating our reply. We think we are listening. We also think we know where the person is heading, and we are much more concerned with what we have to say next than we are to truly understanding where this person is coming from and what he is saying.
Covey says it takes kindness and courage to seek first to understand, and I’d like to add it also takes a great deal of focus. This focus sharpens our ability to listen, and, more importantly, to understand. It’s very difficult to have a meaningful conversation with someone if we don’t really know his position.
To listen powerfully, let go of concerns about whether the person is right or wrong, or whether you agree or disagree. At this stage, all that matters is that you know where the person is coming from, and that you understand that it is important to him.
The next time you are involved in a conversation, notice where your focus is while the other person is speaking. If it is anywhere but on the speaker, adjust and LISTEN!