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

The next habit from the book “7 habits of highly effective people” is seeking first to understand. This sounds so simple and even banal, but it is actually a difficult habit to develop. We as humans are filled with our own perceptions of life, opinions, scripts, values and we want to be understood. Thus, our natural instinct is to seek acceptance and understanding and along the way we may forget about the lives of others. Let’s try to think from the perspective of other people. They also have a deep need to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated. Yet, in many cases we disregard other people viewpoints and positions.

The one most common mistake in communication is probing. When we probe, we ask questions from our frame of reference. When we probe, we impose our perspective on other people. Another mistake is to evaluate other person’s perspective – to agree or disagree with it. Sometimes we advise, we give counsel based on our own perspective and worldview. Other times we interpret – we try to explain people’s behaviour based on our own frame of reference. These predetermined responses prevent us from understanding other people and their personal worlds.

Instead of these unproductive habits, we need to develop empathic listening habit. Empathic listening has a deep intent to understand, listen from your heart. Covey suggests several stages of empathic listening. First, repeat back the content (do not advise or probe). Second, rephrase the content. Third, reflect feeling (try to understand emotions). Fourth, rephrase the content and reflect the feeling. All these stages require consideration and courage. Remember, people resent any attempt to be manipulated. You need to be sincere and honest. With time, the more you listen empathically, the more you appreciate other people and love them.

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