Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Habit 5 is part of the process of achieving a Win/Win situation.

Communication is the most important skill in life whether it is with your colleagues, family members or friends. If you want to successfully interact with somebody, you have to seek to understand them. Unless people genuinely think you understand them, they will be too defensive or afraid to open up to you let you influence them. You must look to build skills of empathic listening to be trusted.

Empathic listening relates to the ‘seek first to understand’ section of Habit 5. When most people listen, they automatically form a response and reply rather than understanding. Empathic listening is listening with the intent to understand what somebody is saying and trying to see what they see through their paradigm. It focuses on your circle of influence and building your understanding. It can be risky as you are opening yourself up to be influenced and can become vulnerable but you really have to understand, it is key to influencing others.

Humans tend to have 4 autobiographical responses when listening:
1.    Evaluate – agree or disagree
2.    Probe – ask questions from our own frame of reference
3.    Advise – give counsel based on our own experience
4.    Interpret – try figure people out based on our own motives and behaviour

These responses are quite controlling and intrusive. Some people believe they are logical and the best way to respond rather than listening empathically which can take more time, but I see it as time well invested. When people are upset and hurting, using sentimental language and really truly listening to them with a desire to understand will encourage them to open up and you begin to see their perception clearly. This can creates an atmosphere of caring, respect and positive problem solving.

Knowing how to be understood is equally as important when trying to reach Win/Win situations. If you present your ideas in a manner that people will not relate to, you have less chance of them listening or agreeing to what you’re saying. However, if you present your ideas carefully and logically with credibility, empathy and in a way that relates to their paradigms and concerns, you significantly increase your chances of being successful. You must learn not to be pushy and impatient but to be respectful.

Overall Habit 5 shows that seeking to understand takes consideration and seeking to be understood takes courage. In order to achieve a Win/Win situation a high degree of both are necessary.

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