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Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

How many times have you start talking or giving your opinions before the other persons finish their talks? How many times have you start to tell people your points when you should in fact listen and understand what others are trying to tell you?
"Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood" is Habit #5 from the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from Steven Covey.

This habit is about wanting to experience something new from the other person, wanting to discover a new way of seeing the world, wanting to truly stand in the other’s shoes and feel their unique pain and their unique joy.

I was watching The Apprentice (a replay) the other night. If you do not know the show - it is a famous reality show featuring a bunch of highly successful and competitive candidates that are competing to be Donald Trump's apprentice. In one of the episode, there was this team member who tried to force her ideas to others and seemed too bossy for the other team members to endure. She became a hindrance to the team and was kicked out. Before that, she seek an opinion from a wise team member (he would eventually won the Apprentice) . The would-be winner told her that he thought all the members in the team had one problem - they cannot communicate well because everyone did more talking than listening. He then quoted "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood".

I thought he was really cool at that moment. For one reason , what he said was really right. For another reason, he said it in a non-confrontational way. The rest of the team members may most probably say "Yes, you boss everyone around and you are just too bossy. Everyone feels that". And what will be the response of the woman, who was being told flat in her face that everybody hates here and wants to back stab her? Denial? Anger? I would said both.

When you watch a group of people interacting, you will quickly notice at most time, people are either talking too much or not trying to understand what are being said. Some shut down other people ideas without really thinking them through. Some do not have the patience to listen to others. Some just make their own assumptions and never bother to ask and understand.

The key to good communication- Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Ririan in his blog entry, mentioned this:

When another person is speaking, we usually “listen” at one of four levels: ignoring, pretending, selective listening, or attentive listening. We should be using the fifth, highest form of listening - empathic listening.

Empathic listening is listening with intent to understand the other person’s frame of reference and feelings. You must listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart. Empathic listening is a tremendous deposit into the emotional bank account. It’s deeply therapeutic and healing because it gives a person “psychological air.”

Stephen Covey also has a warning to us in his book about this kind of emphatic listening:

Do not even start doing this kind of stuff unless you are truly sincere about wanting to understand what the other is saying
Common mistakes that we or others frequently do:

- My idea is better than theirs.
- If I don’t interrupt them, I will never get to say my idea.
- I know what they are about to say.
- They don’t need to finish their thoughts since mine is an improvement.
- Nothing about their idea will improve with further development.
- I am more important than they are.
- It is more important for me to be seen to have a good idea than it is for me to be sure they complete their thought.
- Interrupting them will save time.

Finally, here are suggested two exercises we should try:

Practice Empathetic Listening
Find a person with whom you have a genuine disagreement (e.g. the American presence in Iraq, religion, “you don’t do the dishes enough,” “you shouldn’t act that way”), and practice empathetic listening. The goal is for each person to be able to describe the other’s position well enough for him to say, “yes, that is what I mean”. You don’t have to AGREE with his position, but you have to be able to state it in words such that he agrees that is his position on the matter.

Identify Situations in Which You Offer People Your Glasses
Identify situations in which you give other people “unfounded advice”. Did they really want advice? Do you understand their situation fully, i.e. do you understand how it is different than the situations in which you have experience? Does your advice still apply? In the situations that you identify, how could you respond differently?


jgiralo said…
Wow, I love the post. I am so passionate about communicating well, as I studied it in college. I absolutely love the mention of empathetic listening. The common mistakes also plays a part in the colliding of conflict styles.

Of course, all of these concepts take lots and lots of practice and reflection, possible journal entries to track triggers of bad habits.

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