Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood

Seeking understanding about someone’s thoughts or feelings, and for that matter – our own, gives clarity to a situation. If you ask any expert in fields related to personal or professional relationships, they will tell you that the key to success is communication. Though this is the key, we too often fail to communicate well.

Many people believe that they just need to blast their opinion about a matter with no regard to their audience. Habit #5 teaches us that good communication begins with listening to the story of the other person and then responding with our opinion. The common practice is to make sure that people understand my point of view. The productive and positive influence is to truly understand their point of view first. This practice expresses respect, mutual understanding, empathy, and courage. Great relationships, be at home, school, or work is built on mutual respect. When my wife and I married, a dear friend told us that marriage is never a 50:50 proposition. He said that there are plenty of times that it is going to be a 90:10 or a 10:90 situation. 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. Balance creates best!

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.

Effective Practices:

  1. Practice empathetic listening by asking clarifying questions and not judging the situation as you first see it.
    • 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. 
      • 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?
  2. Respectfully seek to be understood.
    • Once the other person recognizes that you are there to understand and want to help, its 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 ________?”

Personally and professionally I have learned that nine out of ten times a person who is unreasonable, belligerent, or accusatory are experiencing some type of woundedness from the past or present. Empathetic listening says to the person that you care about who they are, what they are feeling, and are open to helping them. Stephen Covey said it best when he uttered the words,

“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

Learning Links



Did you know that one of the smartest things we can do is to be thankful? Neuroscientists have proven that an ounce of gratitude can lead to clearer thinking, better sleeping, less stress, and smarter decision-making. The release of positive neurotransmitters in our...

How to Teach Kids Responsibility

How to Teach Kids Responsibility

Being dependable, honoring commitments, keeping promises, accepting your strengths and struggles, and accepting natural and logical consequences - these are the habits that make us responsible people.   When we can use our abilities to respond to the challenges in...