In our previous post, we explored Habit #4 in Sean Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” a book that helps teens live their highest aspirations. (You can read about Habit #4 here.) This book is so life-changing, we send it to all full-time students upon enrolling! Today, we’re digging into Habit #5 in Covey’s book: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”
Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Most people prefer talking to listening. Why? Because when you’re talking, you’re in control. The center of attention. You’re not bored, because since you’re controlling the topic, you’re guaranteed to only discuss things that matter to you. The problem with valuing talking over listening is that you’re very unlikely to learn something new, expand your world-view, or develop deep relationships. “It’s our tendency to want to swoop out of the sky like Superman and solve everyone’s problems before we even understand what the problem is,” Covey says. “We simply don’t listen.”
Ever gone to buy a new phone and had the salesman tell you what you most certainly want before you’ve even said what it is? Or gone to a doctor who’s prescribed a remedy before you’ve really gotten a chance to explain what’s wrong? This is why Covey’s fifth habit is on learning how to become a genuine listener. Covey says, “If you can learn this simple habit—to see things from another’s point of view before sharing your own—whole new world of understanding will be opened up to you.”
But first-- because it’s often just as helpful to learn what not to do-- let’s spotlight Covey’s Five Poor Listening Styles: spacing out, pretend listening, selective listening, word listening, and self-centered listening.
Spacing out is exactly how it sounds. You’re bored, you’re not talking, so while your friend is discussing his recent heartbreak, you’re secretly wondering who would win in a fight: Supergirl or Wonder Woman. This is the most obvious form of poor listening, and chances are, if you do it too often in conversations, those relationships aren’t going to last very long.
“Pretend listening”, Covey says, “is more common. We still aren’t paying much attention to the other person, but at least we pretend we are by making insightful comments at key junctures, such as ‘yeah,’ ‘uh-huh,’ ‘cool,’ or throwing in an ‘lol’ here and there when you’re chatting online.” There’s minimum effort shown here, which the person you’re speaking with will see, and use as a caliber to gauge just how much you care about them. (Minimally.)
Selective listening is like trying to watch a drive-in movie in a car doing donuts. You’re going to miss every third word, giving a largely inaccurate understanding of what’s really happening. “Selective listening is where we pay attention only to the part of the conversation that interests us,” Covey says. So if you’ve started writing a book set during the civil war and a friend says “Since my brother joined up, I don’t want to watch movies about war,” you might immediately jump in and say: “Dude, I’ve been watching so many war movies lately! Did I tell you about that civil war novel I’m writing?” Because all you heard was “war”, not the sentiment behind it.
Word listening is when we pay attention to someone else, but we only listen for the words, ignoring the person’s body language, tone, or feelings. By omitting these important clues, it’s impossible to find the true meaning behind the words. “If you focus on words only, you’ll seldom be in touch with the deeper emotions of people’s hearts,” Covey says.
In Self-centered listening, you filter everything through your own experience and point of view. “Instead of standing in another’s shoes, we want them to stand in ours,” Covey explains, pointing out, “this is where sentences like “Oh, I know exactly how you feel” come from. We don’t know exactly how they feel, we know exactly how we feel, and we assume they feel the same way we do.” This is like you telling your friend your cat died, and your friend saying: “That stinks, I totally get it. My grandma died a couple weeks back.” Would that help? No. You’d feel unheard. (And probably a little like your friend was trying to one-up you, implying your problem wasn’t that bad in comparison.)
The fourth poor listening style, Judging, is the secret subtext behind a person’s response. When someone if flippant, flaky, or condescending, it’s easy to tell they’re letting internal judgements about what you’re saying affect their listening. Judging can be found in phrases like: “you sure you want to do that?” or “I guess it’s your decision.” The obvious unspoken inferences here are: “you shouldn’t do that” and “fine, screw up your life if you want.”
The fifth and final poor listening style is called Advising. Covey describes Advising as “when we give advice drawn from our own experience. This is the when-I-was-your-age speech you often get from your elders.” While advice is helpful, unsolicited advice doesn’t give the person the chance to figure out how they want to deal with the problem. It also assumes the person wants advice. Often, a person just wants to feel heard and affirmed so they have the fortification to forge ahead and fix the problem themselves. This leads us to what Habit #5 is really about: Genuine Listening.
Covey gives us three practical tips for this.
First, Listen with your eyes, heart, and ears. “Only 7 percent of communication is contained in the words we use,” Covey explains. “The rest comes from body language (53%) and how we say words, or the tone and feeling reflected in our voice (40%).” This is why so much miscommunication can happen via text or social media. Without body language or inflection as our guide, it’s easy to misinterpret a person’s intent.
Second, stand in that person’s shoes. This doesn’t just mean trying to imagine what someone’s life is like. It also means recognizing that we all have our own pasts and life experiences that shape our worldview, and being willing to set aside our personal narrative so we can truly be open. “To become a genuine listener, you need to take off your shoes and stand in another’s,” Covey quips. “ In the words of Robert Byrne, ‘Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins you can’t imagine the smell.’”
Covey’s third tip is to practice mirroring. “What does a mirror do? It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t give advice. It reflects.” Mirroring means listening and then repeating back what you heard in your own words. (It’s important to note here that there’s a difference between mirroring and mimicking. Mirroring is thoughtfully re-phrasing someone’s words to affirm and give them the opportunity to hear their thoughts in another form. Mimicking is like a parrot: repeating the exact words in a cold, indifferent tone.) Mirroring tends to turn into mimicking when the person doesn’t really have the desire to understand others. For this skill, intent makes all the difference.
Five mirroring phrases Covey suggests to start with are:
“It sounds like you feel…”
“So, as I see it . . .”
“I can see that you’re feeling . . .”
“You feel that . . .”
“So, what you’re saying is . . .”
These three tips help fulfill part one of Habit #5: Seek to Understand. Now let’s get to the second half: Then Seek to Be Understood.
Did you know the #1 fear in most people isn’t death or disease… it’s speaking in public! This is why it can be so hard to offer feedback to others to help them understand you and your values/ideas better. However, Covey says that “giving feedback is an important part of seeking to be understood.” But when is the right time to do it?
Covey suggests asking yourself this question: “Will this feedback really help this person or am I doing it just to suit myself and fix them?” If you just want to “fix” the problem so they’ll stop talking about it, then your motive doesn’t have their best interest at heart. But if you’re coming from a place of compassion, and ask if the other person is open to your feedback or suggestion, then you’ll know it’s appropriate to give.
The only problem is, some people tend to get a wee bit defensive when getting feedback. A helpful tip to alleviate this is by using “I” messages instead of “You” messages, a technique otherwise known as “I before You.” An “I” message sounds like: “I’m concerned you’re not taking care of yourself” or “I feel belittled when you talk to me like that in front of your friends.” These tend to go down much more smoothly than “You” messages, like: “You don’t know how to take care of yourself” or “You act like a jerk around your friends!” One comes from a place of compassion. The other comes across as an attack.
Giving feedback takes courage, but it also deepens relationships when done with the right intentions. That’s why it’s such an important part of Habit #5!
Join us next time as we delve into Habit #6: “Synergize.” Be sure to join our newsletter so you won’t miss a post!
“Before I can walk in another’s shoes, I must first remove my own.”- Unknown