Have you had the frustrating experience of trying to help someone by giving them some advice and having them turn it down right away without even considering what you are saying. Nowhere is this more frustrating than with the people we love.
Why is it that our good intentioned advice goes in one ear and out the other? The late great Stephen Covey tells us the answer in his invaluable book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He says in order to give a proper prescription, we must first take the time to do a proper diagnosis. Habit five of the seven habits is “Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood”.
That sounds so simple, but if I’m honest with myself, I catch myself not listening to understand. Instead, I’m listening with the intent to reply. Instead of engaging in actual conversation with you, my self centeredness makes me exchange speaking and listening with speaking and preparing to speak. In The Seven Habits, Dr. Covey lays out a powerful illustration of just how hard this can be to see in ourselves. The following is a conversation between Dr. Covey and a father at one of his seminars:
Father- I can’t understand my kid. He just won’t listen to me at all.
Covey- Let me restate what you just said. You don’t understand your son because he won’t listen to you?
Father- Thats what I said (impatiently)
Covey- I though that to understand another person, you need to listen to him.
Father- Oh (long pause)… OH! (it begins to dawn on the father) Oh yeah! But I do understand him. I know what he’s going though. I went though the same thing myself. I guess what I don’t understand is why he won’t listen to me!
From the outside this look downright foolish, but its just as hard for us to see in ourself as it was for this frustrated dad at Dr. Covey’s seminar. Here are four steps you can take to help see influence as a two way street.
- Focus on seeking to understand: This will take Herculean effort. Most of us have spend all of our life focusing on speaking, reading, and writing, but paid no attention whatsoever to the skill of listening.
- Empathy not sympathy: Listening with empathy requires a paradigm shift. Empathetic listening involves seeking to understand fully, emotionally, and intellectually. Sympathetic listening involves seeking to gain agreement which is a form of judgement. If we are to fully understand a problem, we must focus on empathetic listening.
- Leave you autobiography on the shelf: Our nature is to speak and even to listen autobiographically. We see all problems though our lens of experience. What we can’t easily see, is the life experiences behind the other persons assumptions, prejudices, and biases.
- Make a full diagnosis before you prescribe: Make sure you understand the problem, the person, and the surrounding circumstances to the best of you ability and the other person is convinced that you understand before you proceed with a diagnosis.
I hope this helps you! I love you guys. Please don’t forget to subscribe via RSS or email using the form at the top-right corner of the page!