(A version of this post was originally published here on December 17, 2017.)
Here is a little quiz for you: the phrase “seek first to understand, then to be understood” comes from which of the following?
- The LEAD 24/7 segment on high-impact listening.
- The LEAD 24/7 segment on leaning in to healthy conflict.
- Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
- All of the above.
If you guessed #4, you are correct. Now I’d like to know if you are like most people (according to Covey). Habit 5 in Covey’s book is Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. It’s in this section that he describes “most people.” I’ve added a few “most people” descriptions of my own:
- Most people form opinions in a conversation based upon their own experiences.
- Most people listen with the intent to respond, not to understand.
- Most people understand autobiographically—they understand based on their own root systems and experiences.
- Most people seek first to be understood. (i.e. they only wish to make sure the other person knows where they are coming from).
- Most people listen more to themselves in a conversation—their inner monologue, their preparing what to say next, their filters—than the other person.
- Most people decide what others are trying to say without listening all the way through to the end.
- Most people selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.
Are you like most people?
When is the last time you watched a news program in which two guests with opposite views ended an exchange with the other person saying: “I’ve got no response yet, I was only trying to understand fully where you were coming from.” Not lately I bet!
We tend to cheer those most able to give exactly the kind of quick, witty, and damaging responses that reveal just how focused they were on formulating that good sound bite.
I don’t want to be like the “most people” that Steven Covey describes. I’m finding it takes a lot of discipline to be different. And I’ve also found the difference is worth it—not just in terms of effectiveness like Covey described, but worth it in being a leader worth following.
Lead on and listen well,
Image by Paul Stevenson. Used under CC by 2.0 license.
As Coach Gerald said so well in our coaching sessions:
After you speak —simply ask the other person—“So what did you hear me say in your own words.”
When I listen to the response it only proves all of the points above that we have been taught as a society-listen to respond.
This has fundamentally changed my 1 on 1’s with peers, reports and my family!!
I completely agree Jeff! In our world of trying to be heard, think of how to respond, not get passed over, and be recognized, it is very easy to continue that inner monologue. I love your analogy to the news program. We only hear parts of what we when that help us make our points when instead we should listen to the whole story.
This is a skill that we all need to work on. However, I have noticed that those that have mastered it, may contribute or talk less, but in the end they say so much more.
Great article and thank you.