We’re on to the fifth habit of Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People: Think First to Understand…Then to be Understood

Communication is one of the strongest life skills—if not the strongest skill—to possess. To be proactive you must communicate your goals, needs, and wants. When working with a team, you should begin with the end in mind and discuss the route that will get you there most successfully. We communicate every single day and nearly all day long.

We do this through reading, writing and speaking. And we spend years learning how to do each. We even communicate non-verbally through body language.

But what about listening?

How often do we train to listen to others? And do you simply listen to hear the gist of what is being said, or do you do so in a manner that allows you to deeply understand what is being said? Do you listen so intently that you can understand the person who is speaking more deeply too?

Probably not.

Most people want to get their own point across, first and foremost.  They want to be understood before listening. If another individual speaks first, many will only pretend to listen or half listen, hearing only what they choose to or catching bits and pieces. They already have a response crafted and are doing a poor job of listening.

This is called “listening with intent to reply, not to understand.”

As their counterpart speaks, an individual typically begins to practice what they’ll say next. They may catch a hint of what is being said, but then they use their own life experiences to adapt and reframe their response. They prematurely decide how the interaction will go before it’s even fully begun.

Be honest; how many of you have run into the funny predicament of answering a question with an answer to a completely different question?

Someone asks, “what time is it?” You say, “good, you?” Or you start a sentence with “but…” and your counterpart responds, “I know, I just said that.”

Mr. Covey has found that there are four styles of responses:






Judge, then agree or disagree

Ask a question for your own reference

Give counsel, advice or solutions to problems

Analyze their motives/behaviors based on your own experience

Granted, in some situations it’s ok to relate to a person by drawing from your own experience. When a friend or colleague directly asks your for advice regarding something you have personally gone through, responding based on your own reference is appropriate.

In other situations, though, empathic listening provides accurate data to work with so one can avoid projecting their own (sometimes wrong) interpretation into a conversation.

Find what is in someone’s head and heart. Listen to them and understand what they’re saying first. Then respond accordingly.

One of my favorite sayings encompasses this idea perfectly: “We’ve all been given one mouth and two ears.  Perhaps that’s a hint that we should listen twice as much as we speak!”

Here’s to good listening.