Understand and Be Understood

Habit number five in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey is Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. It sounds complicated, but it is actually fairly simple in practice and absolutely necessary to effective communication habits.

How many times have you found yourself in conversation with someone and you are only thinking about what you are going to say when they ever stop talking? Concentrated on your reply and not what they are actually saying.

Often times, we may not even hear what they are saying, especially in highly emotional conversations. The reply in our heads coupled with anger or fear or sadness blocks out every word they say to us. We wait only to pounce with our heated reply or disagreement or accusation.

Many times, we seek only to be understood first. We want people to hear us. We want to make our point. What the other person has to say takes away from our time to be understood, or so we believe.

We can listen selectively, focusing on words that make us more angry, more sad, more afraid and leaving out the context of what someone is saying entirely. We can filter everything someone else is being said through our own frame of reference and experience. Not hearing anything about the other person’s personal story in the words.

We can jump to conclusions about what someone else means by their words before they even finish speaking. In today’s climate this is particularly true when what one person says does not line up with what another person thinks or feels, immediate judgment comes without ever taking the time to actually listen to the other person.

We respond usually in one of four ways when we are not seeking to understand. We judge what is being said and then either agree or disagree. We ask questions but only from our own frame of reference. We give advice or solutions to the problem. We analyze the other person’s motives and behaviors based on our own experiences or beliefs.

When we seek to understand we intentionally listen to the other person, even to the point of making notes if we have to in order to actually hear and see what they are saying. When they are finished speaking, we paraphrase or repeat back what we heard them say such as “I heard you say” or “I hear you saying”. And then asking them if what you say you heard is actually what they said.

Without intentional listening, repeating back, asking for correction if what we repeat back is not what they said, and then responding with I statements, we end up with reactive responses having actually heard nothing from the other person. This results in misunderstanding, blame, and repetitive arguments. Common ground is nowhere to be seen and no one understands anything about the other person.

Deep communication is intentional. It requires effort and the ability to resist being reactionary. But practiced over time this habit can transform relationships.

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Mindful Communication

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One of the main causes of conflict in relationships is problems in communication. The ability to truly listen and speak to others and to truly be heard and understood. Along with the ability to be truly honest with ourselves and others. It is not being able to do these things that causes so much relationship conflict.

The first part of mindful communication is always listening. Most people think they are listening in conversations and/or “arguments” when many times they are just thinking about what they want to say or their next response while the other person is talking. To mindfully listen, we must actively listen to the other person so much so that we are then able to repeat back to them what they said BEFORE we have a response. We must be able to then pause and consider our response carefully taking into account exactly what they said not what we think we heard them say.

Avoid judging the other person when communicating. Many times during communication we make judgments against the other person and what they are saying based on our feelings or perceptions. This judgment then makes it very difficult for us to truly listen and then to understand the other person’s perception and feelings. By judging, our own feelings become foremost in our minds leading to an inability to think clearly.

Instead of immediately responding, we should also pause to validate their feelings and words. By simply saying first, I understand what you are saying, I heard what you have said, I heard you say and then repeat or summarize what they said. By doing this, the other person feels understood, which is what almost everyone is seeking in any communication.

Be completely focused on the conversation at hand. No looking at phones or worse yet using the phone. No watching TV or paying attention to other people who are around. No tuning out or daydreaming during the other person’s speaking. We must practice being fully present in conversations for the other person to feel respected and also to be able to fully listen and understand.

Conversations aren’t competitions. The goal shouldn’t be to win the discussion. It should be to be heard and understood and possibly come to a compromise of understanding or at the very least an understanding of the other person. We don’t have to win to successfully communicate.

Do no harm. In any conversation, words should not be hurtful. Carefully consider what you are saying and how you say it. Consider tone carefully. Try to avoid putting the other person on the defensive by not using the word you and staying with using I. Do not bring up everything from the past, stay with the topic at hand. Do not blame. Do not use profanity or make generalizations. Be specific and speak with truth and love. If you are upset about something, it is best to wait until your emotions have settled before speaking. Be impeccable with your word.

“True communication goes beyond talking and listening. It is about understanding.” ~ Gerald Campbell

Until next time
Deborah