Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989 and it became an instant hit. Let’s take a look at the fifth habit, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” To make this practical, think about someone you have been frustrated with; perhaps your manager, a co-worker, family member or friend.
Let’s say that you haven’t been able to get them to agree with your point of view or to say “yes” to your request. Why is that? Is it because they are just being stubborn, competitive, self-centered or uncaring? We’ve all felt that way at some point in a relationship, be it at work or in our personal lives. But that kind of thinking only fuels the problem.
When we blame the other person for what’s going on, we unintentionally give up our power to connect and influence the outcome we want. Coming to the conclusion that the problem is “him” or “her” is a sure way to get that person to conclude that we don’t understand anything at all. If that’s the case, what can we do instead? We can “seek first to understand.”
Here are three tips:
Assume you have missed something important: I know, you have had countless “discussions” and you can repeat the other person’s position and concerns verbatim. Be willing to start over—this time with honest curiosity.
Apologize for your part in the disconnect: If you are truthful with yourself, you will find something to apologize for. Saying, “I don’t think I’ve listened as well as I could have” will build goodwill. Offering an apology will also go a long way toward helping the other person feel heard and respected.
Agree when you can: Seeking to understand doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the other person says or wants—but it can be beneficial to try to agree with some things along the way. It’s about giving first before we expect to receive.