If you are looking for a new habit in 2018, it’s not too late for some New Year’s Resolutions. Habit 5 from the famous book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey could be the most important habit you’ll ever learn: listening with the intent to understand.
Listening is an essential part of effective communication
This is an excerpt taken from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which summarises habit number five – seek first to understand then to be understood. “Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?” Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you are so busy working out in your head what you are going to say next that you don’t actually take in a word of what the other person said? We see it all too often in business, where many people seek first to be understood, aka to get their own point across straight away. In this approach, we tend to ignore the other person we are interacting with completely.
Why are people so bad at listening?
The simple fact is that most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. “Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way.” “I had that same thing happen to me.” “Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation.” This is a persistent habit that causes people to filter everything they hear through their own life experiences, their own specific frame of reference. The most common types of responses tend to reflect one or more of these four approaches:
- Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree.
- Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
- Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
- Interpreting: You analyse others’ motives and behaviours based on your own experiences.
But what about adding to the list one more: simply listen? At Beyond, we try to align our internal and client conversations with this principle. Business can often be a lonely world for the owners with no one to talk to, and more importantly no one to listen to their struggles and challenges. Using this habit allows us to understand the needs and objectives of our clients and give them the confidence that they are truly being heard and understood. Rather than just blindly prescribing an accounting solution for them, we can work together to build out a solution that focuses on addressing and resolving their concerns along with exploring areas of opportunity within each challenge they face.
Beyond’s tips to help you develop your communication skills
- Devote some time to ask your clients/customers how they are doing and, if appropriate, “What’s keeping them up at night?” Stop everything you are doing and just listen to them. Listen with intent, without trying to respond, without trying to solve their problems. Just listen. At the end, relay back to them what they’ve told you.
- Do the very same exercise with your team members.
- Do the very same exercise with your family members and closest friends
When you seek to understand others, there are a couple of important and special things that will start to happen. Firstly, your relationship and rapport with them will grow stronger and they will be more open and honest with you as a result. Rapport builds trust and when you are trying to achieve ambitious goals, build your team, grow your business and improve your lifestyle, trust is everything. Second, your words will tend to hold more weight with people. For those that you have made a point to understand better, when you tell them something, it will tend to carry more weight.
Be in good company!
Stephen Covey’s not the only person thinking along these lines. Here are some similar thoughts, from familiar sources:
“The power of intuitive understanding will protect you from harm all of your days.” – Lao Tzu.
“Understanding is a two-way street.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute understanding from people of ill will.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.