Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

This week at Almond Acres, we are studying Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood. Seeking to understand often requires the skill of listening. Whether as a student, an employee or in a relationship, the skill of listening is essential to learning and knowing a subject or a person deeply.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student listens intently to another student at the same desk. She is making eye contact and has her body facing the speaker. There are 4 students in red uniform shirts sitting together at a table.

Habit 5 teaches us that good communication begins with empathetic listening. 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. We can probably all relate to not being listened to at some point in our lives. It feels terrible–this is the first step to empathy!

Our ego commonly gets in the way of being a good listener. Instead of listening, we make sure that people understand our own point of view first, or only listen autobiographically. When we listen autobiographically, we filter what others say through our 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. In short, we are putting ourselves first.

The productive and positive influence is to truly understand another’s point of view first. This practice expresses respect, mutual understanding, empathy, and courage. Great relationships, whether at home, school, or work are built on mutual respect. Loving and respecting others is an act of good listening because we tend to find better solutions to challenges in life when we consider the ideas from both sides to create the best idea. 

When it comes to learning, listening is obviously a must! Students who practice good listening skills become great thinkers. They can’t understand academic skills if they are distracted and not following a lesson. Moreover, asking questions and getting clarification develops greater understanding and makes meaningful connections between subjects and skills.

We believe teaching listening skills is as essential as reading and writing skills. We use a simple 3-step framework to illuminate this practice for all of our K-8 students: 

  1. Practice empathetic listening by asking clarifying questions and not judging the situation as you first see it. Some examples include: 
  • Can you tell me what happened?
  • How do you feel about _____?
  • What do you think led to this situation?
  • You sound really _______. 
  • What do you think is the next right thing to do?
  1. When emotions are high, stand your peaceful ground and don’t jump into the excitement. This will help the other person to connect to their thinking brain because they see you modeling it. 
  1. Respectfully seek to be understood. Once the other person recognizes that you are there to understand and want to help, it’s time to add your input. 
  • “I feel _______ about ________.”
  • “You could be right, however, ________.”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. Would you like my opinion?”
  • “That sounds interesting. What do you think about ________?”

Empathetic listening says to the person that you care about who they are, what they are feeling, and are open to helping them. It is a simple skill with a profound impact that we can all practice in our day-to-day lives. 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

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