Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood

There’s a reason why Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold over 15 million copies. If you want to be a better coworker, leader, and overall person, there are seven points easily spelled out for you.

Recently, I was reminded about a particular point in the book that stood out to me. Habit five: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

We’re often reminded to speak clearly, concisely, and get our point across. But if everyone is focused on making others understand, there’s no one left to do the understanding.

When you seek first to understand, your point will be better received because you’ll have an important ingredient a lot of conversations are lacking—empathy.

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” – Stephen Covey

People are more open to hearing your point once they realize that you also understand their viewpoint.

It’s not just about listening—that’s only the first half of it. After you listen, you have to place yourself in the other person’s shoes to determine why the speaker feels the way he or she does, and then respond in the appropriate manner.

When I tell people that I was on the debate team in high school, they usually say, “I can see that. You can argue your point.” But that’s not the makeup of a great debater. The best debate teams have members that are able to say their point, listen to the opposing view, and rebut the main points made by the opposing speaker.

In other words, you can’t make a solid point if you don’t know where the other side is coming from.

Yes, you should speak in a way that makes your message stick. Yes, you should listen attentively. But before you reply, empathize and seek to understand.

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

2 responses

  1. Such a great reminder Hope. I often assume people understand what I am saying or even where I left off in a previous conversation! I have to force myself to think, listen and determine if I am really communicating well.

    It is not as natural as I would hope for! I often think of how much is lost because of a simple miscommunication.

    1. I know what you mean, Charles. I think a lot of people are surprised at how hard you have to work at communicating!

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