Habits of highly effective people, part 3: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

3 min read

In an attempt to decipher what it takes to become highly effective individuals, we have explored Stephen R. Covey’s insights, and in this last blog of the series we discuss our third favourite habit: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This habit is all about establishing effective communication and building lasting relationships, both in our professional and personal life.

Understanding the Habit

At its core, the habit encourages us to prioritize listening and understanding before expressing our own thoughts. It’s easy to fall into the trap of formulating our responses while others speak, but Covey urges us to resist this impulse and truly absorb the message being conveyed.

To give you an example, imagine you’re in a team meeting, and a colleague proposes a new strategy that seems unconventional. Instead of immediately voicing your concerns, try first to understand their thought process by asking questions. This not only shows respect, but also allows you to comprehend the rationale behind their ideas. You might end up realising that it is a great strategy after all!

But what can we do to make this habit our own? There are several complementary behaviours we need to practice:

Active Listening. Active listening involves not only hearing words but also understanding the underlying emotions and intentions. When engaged in a conversation, focus on the speaker, maintain eye contact, and avoid interrupting. This shows respect and allows you to pick up on non-verbal cues that can provide valuable insights into the speaker’s feelings.

Empathy. Empathy is about identifying and understanding other people’s emotions and, as such, a critical element of effective communication. Seek to understand the other person’s perspective by putting yourself in their shoes. This not only builds trust but also opens the door for more meaningful and collaborative discussions.

Clarifying Questions. Often, we rush to make assumptions that can lead to misunderstandings. Maybe we missed part of what the other person was saying, or maybe we didn’t want to come across as unfamiliar with a topic. No matter the reason, it’s to our benefit to ask clarifying questions and ensure that we’ve understood the intended message correctly. It demonstrates our commitment to understanding and prevents potential miscommunication.

Suspend Judgment. It’s part of the human nature to judge quickly and jump into conclusions, but this habit encourages us to suspend judgment until we’ve fully comprehended the other person’s viewpoint. This doesn’t mean you have to agree, but understanding precedes any constructive response.

The benefits of Seeking First to Understand, Then to Be Understood extend beyond one-to-one engagements.

When team members actively seek to understand each other, it creates a collaborative environment which in turn improves communication, productivity and performance.

Leaders who embody this habit gain the trust and respect of their teams. By understanding the concerns and aspirations of team members, leaders can make more informed decisions and create a thriving culture.

Finally, in client-facing roles, the ability to understand a client’s needs is key. Many times we’ve had feedback from customers that the main reason they chose LMW was because we took time to understand their challenges and objectives instead of jumping to present our solution. By actively listening and asking relevant questions, we ensured common understanding and were able to tailor our offering to meet their specific needs. Professionals who prioritize seeking first to understand build stronger client relationships, leading to increased satisfaction and long-term business success.

Final thoughts

As we conclude our journey through our favourite habits from Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the seven habits. Each is important in its own right and well worth exploring:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw
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