Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood

“The deepest need of the human heart is to be understood.”- Sean Covey

This week we are studying Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood.  Specifically, we are practicing the skill of empathic listening. Think about a time when someone didn’t listen to you. How did it feel?  Often without realizing it, we listen autobiographically, which is filtering what others say through your own story, experiences, prejudices, biases, and values. We probe by asking questions from our own frame of reference or agenda. We evaluate by agreeing or disagreeing. We advise by giving counsel, advice, and solutions to problems. We interpret by trying to figure out or analyze the other person.

The Leader In Me teaches us to listen empathically. Empathic listening is listening with the sole intent to understand another person within his or her frame of reference. It requires both intent and skill. The key is to truly, honestly desire to understand the other person. If you have the right attitude but not the skill, you will be fine. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Here are a few ways that could sound:

“You feel ___________ about __________.”
“It sounds like you feel…”
“So what you’re saying is…”

When to Listen Empathically: Watch the Signals

Stop talking and listen empathically when:

  • Emotions are high. 
  • You must get to the heart of an issue.
  • You feel that you don’t understand. 
  • The other person doesn’t feel understood. 

Slow down.

  • Watch and be ready to listen empathically.

Go forward and seek to be understood when:

  • The issue is clear and mutually understood.
  • The conversation is casual and unemotional.
  • You’re asked to give counsel or advice.

Learning Links