Habit 5 - Seek first to understand, then to be understood
by Barbara Hickey
December 02, 2013 12:00 AM | 1532 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Covey calls this "The Habit of Communication," as it is an attitude of openness coupled with the skill of active and empathic listening.

This means being genuinely interested in seeking another's point of view, regardless of whether or not you agree.

As a doctor would not prescribe before he diagnoses, an active listener gathers all the facts and attempts to understand them before making a judgment. This allows for decision making based on knowledge rather than ignorance.

  • Before we can understand another person, we must exercise the principle of "empathy," placing ourselves in the other person's place in order to understand his/her point of view. 
  • We must be willing to be influenced, foregoing ideas of right, wrong, winner, and loser.
  • When we satisfy the other person's need to be understood, he will most likely make an effort to understand our point of view.
  • We create a climate of openness that is non-threatening and allows for opening up the lines of communication to third alternatives and eventually a win-win situation.
  • We must move beyond "autobiographical responses" that cause us to translate others' words and feelings to fit our opinions and experiences.
  • Empathic listening requires us to reflect on what is being said and restating as clearly as possible what we understand. This makes it easier for all parties to examine and clarify their thoughts at their own pace.
  • It is necessary to recognize nonverbal communication and the subtle expressions of face and body. Most issues have emotional overtones that demand recognition if a win-win situation is to exist.
  • Empathic listening can backfire if it is perceived to be manipulative, so be direct and let the other party know that you are trying to be understanding to their point of view and need their help to be successful at it. Be willing to make such a statement and mean it or this skill will become a weapon that will finish you.
  • Once we understand, then we can begin to be understood. This can be a process that takes one step forward and two steps back in an effort to discover that "third" alternative that is part of a win-win equation.
Ask the following four questions before moving on to "being understood":

  • Do I avoid autobiographical responses?
  • Do I faithfully reflect my understanding of the person?
  • Do I focus on feelings as well as words?
  • Do I watch nonverbal cues to discern feelings?
Henry Ford said: "If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to understand the other person's point of view."

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