Seek First to Understand, to Be Understood


In life and business, effective communication serves you well, although communication is a learned art form. Communication experts estimate that words only represent 10% of communication. While sounds represent 30% and body language covers the remaining 60%.

So to become a good listener, Stephan Covey suggests learning to listen with your ears, eyes and heart. This practice will improve your empathetic listening skills. Regular listeners catch keywords and craft a response. Covey argues that the average person only listens, so they respond back as follows:

  1. Probe: ask questions from our level of understanding.
  2. Check: either agree or disagree with the stated point of view.
  3. Instruct: give advice based on our personal experiences.
  4. Interpret: try to figure out motives based on our mindset.

Other times, we pretend to listen. When we do pay attention we frame the speaker's words through our personal experiences, rather than open our minds to the different perspectives of speakers.

To Covey, an empathetic listener seeks to first understand before explaining their standpoint. In The 7 Habits, he encourages us to do more than register words and project ourselves onto the talker. Instead, listen to understand the feelings and motives of the talker.

When we understand others, differences no longer separate us. We can — actually — help by providing someone with creative solutions, comfort or a safe space to talk, instead of giving them the response that we think they want or need.

Empathetic listening is not only an essential skill for building relationships. It is critical to career success. Successful professionals understand the needs, concerns, and situations of customers and their bosses.

While some points might sound simple, they are often overlooked. Covey's logic boils down to setting a good mental foundation for handling life effectively. Start reading The 7 Habits today to join the ranks of highly effective people.