Habit 5: Seek First To Understand

I should have done this last week, but I chose to do other things last week. 🙂

Theidea behind this habit is that all too often we listen to people withthe intent to reply, not to truly understand the other person. In ourquest to be understood–something most everyone desires–it is possibleto ignore the other person completely, hear only part of what they aresaying, or filter what they are saying through our own experiences.Based on that “experience,” we think we understand the other person andare quick to offer advice, but it may not even be asked for or relevant.

Shouldyou not provide advice when someone talks to you? If they ask for it orif there is a high level of trust in the relationship, sure. But don’tbe quick to offer it unless they specifically ask.

Trulylistening to someone is hard work. By truly listening, you “get insidetheir mind.” You listen not only with your ears, but your eyes and yourheart. You listen to the words, you look for non-verbal cues, andlisten with your heart to find the meaning and feeling that comesthrough in the other person’s voice.

Listening itself seemsfairly straightforward. What isn’t so straightforward is the mindsetthat goes along with listening. Listening with the intent ofunderstanding requires you to put your agenda and your ego aside. Don’ttry and take over the conversation, ask questions of the person to helpdraw out their thoughts and feelings or to clarify something you’remissing. Really try and see the world as the other person sees it. Echothat understanding to the other person so they can confirm yourunderstanding.

This ability to understand things from theother person’s view is one of the things that makes me an effectivetechnical support person. However, I need to work on this with otherpeople–particularly my son. I had an incident with my son recentlywhere my wife was not particularly happy with how I was handling thesituation, so she took over. Later, I had a conversation with her aboutthe situation. Instead of trying to say why I was right and she waswrong, I took the time to seek understanding. I told her up-front thatmy goal was to understand what the issue was and that I primarilywanted to listen. Well I got an earful.

I am not going torehash the entire conversation, but the big thing that fell out of itwas that my wife really felt I wasn’t seeking understanding with myson–someone who desperately needs it. The particular situation with myson would have been much better had I seeked understanding instead ofdoing what I did. That hurt, but my wife was right.

Doing the work to seek understanding up front is much easier than it is to go back and correct misunderstandings later on.

tags: 7 habits, self improvement






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