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Seek First to Be Understand Before Being Understood

Stephan Covey is one of the speakers that will inspire you to truly listen to what the other person is trying to say. If a person does that, one will be able to reflect what the other person is saying and therefore be more able to assist him/her in what they are feeling. Communication is the most important skill in life. We spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? Most people probably seek first to be understood; we want to get our point across.

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And in doing so, we may ignore the other person completely, pretend that we are listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. Covey warns that giving out advice before having empathetically understood a person and their situation will likely result in rejection of that advice.

In order to participate in communication fully, one should be sure to understand the speaker by asking questions and then replying in a way that lets the listener know that you understand the situation. This could be done by trying to mimic the other person’s feeling by repeating what he or she says, a topic that we went over in class when the professor mentioned that this a tactic some interviewers do when interviewing a job candidate. They try to do some bodily gestures and if the interviewee follows their actions, this means that they are on the same level of understanding each other.

Seeking understanding is a two-way street that relies on the ability of each listener to ‘actively listen’. Generally speaking, our first impulse in communication is to make sure that we have been understood. Especially as managers and leaders and parents, we often give instruction to others. While this sort of directed communication is important, it is not the only way that we communicate. There are many times that others will come to us with problems, with needs, or with conversation. And I as a mother can attest that my first impulse is to help, to solve the problem or to offer solutions even before I know all the facts.

After listening to Covey, sometimes it is a good idea to just listen and say nothing for the first few minutes so I can be able to gather all the facts before offering any assistance. It is in those times that we practice listening with empathy. This means turning our communication practice around and seeking first to understand, rather than first to be understood. This puts the power in the hands of the other person, the power to communicate their feelings. The responsibility then lies with us to accept, and understand the source of, these feelings and then seek to offer any help, if necessary.

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