One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has got to be unpopular with the self-seeking, personal agenda of most of us these days. The habit is number five, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This principle is at the heart of empathic listening. Listening is essential to good communication that lets minds come together for the advancement of all.
The goal for those of us who want to get all we can out of life must include an interdependence with other people. If we think we are going to succeed at business, social life, or whatever without a meeting of minds with those around us, we are on a rough and lonely road. Not only that, when we have real communication going on, it is more likely that we can arrive at a win/win solution that makes everyone happy.
1. Realize our internal scripting. This is best done by getting to know ourselves through a bit of personality study. The four types originally identified by Hippocrates are a good place to start, but there are many other systems of personality theory. Seeking first to understand is complicated by our internal “scripting,” which is that personal perspective with which we approach everything.
2. Be aware of the four wrong ways to respond and notice when we are doing them. They are probing, evaluating, advising, and interpreting. Probing is asking pointed questions to get the person to reveal more about what’s troubling them. Too often this is associated with one of the other self-centered response styles. For instance, we are just waiting for fuel for an interpretation or judgment we have already made.
3. Be careful about using mimicking techniques used by psychologists. It’s OK to repeat back what you hear someone say, but if you’re not with them emotionally, they will see right through you. A better method is to repeat back in your own words, with the emotional and physical facts included.
4. Think win/win. When we feel we understand where the other person is coming from and what his or her needs are, we still have the job of making ourselves understood if we are to reach a point of agreement. Covey’s fourth habit is to “Think win/win.” Too often, we approach any sort of relationship communication problems from a competitive win/lose perspective. This attitude can display itself in one of two ways. We can have such a strong desire to win that we don’t care how we run over the other person. Or we can desire to avoid conflict so that we willingly lose.
5. Develop an abundance mentality. Win/win means both parties come out feeling like winners. This is a wonderful positive way to look at life which is closely related to our gut belief that there is enough to go around. Covey calls this the “Abundance Mentality” and contrasts it with a “Scarcity Mentality” which is far more common. Having an abundance mentality means we truly believe that we can win and they can win at the same time because there is plenty of whatever we both want (money, time, etc.) to meet everyone’s needs. A scarcity mentality means we have to fight it out because there won’t be enough for us both.
Life is enriched by positive relationships with friends and business associates, but all too often we upset the peace because we don’t take the time to listen emphatically. We tend to put our own need to be understood first, but this often results in a breakdown in communication we later regret.
Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Littaur, Florence. Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself.
Kiersey, David and Bates, Marilyn. Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types
Barbara Wood is a writer and educator living with her family in the Missouri Ozarks.