When I was a young man, I was fortunate to have caught a television show one night where the host of a talk show was interviewing Stephen R. Covey in the years after he wrote his amazing book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits hit me like a ton of bricks. Truth be told, probably five or six of ‘the habits’ hit me like that, but I digress. Stephen talked about how important it is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Wow, that was one powerful habit, if you ask me. Simple. Clear. Easy to absorb. It set me on a path toward what I’ve been doing for the last 20 or so years, really focusing on trying to help others to get what they want. I realized that I’d never be able to grow to my full potential unless I made a much larger effort to listen to others, and to really find a set of habits that would enable me to listen deeply and attentively so that I could ensure that I would truly understand the message that my fellow man was trying to share with me. In all honesty, Covey’s book and that talk show changed the trajectory of my life that night. I thought it might be a good thing if I paid it forward and tried in my own way to help another generation of human beings to prioritize listening and to make a significant effort to understand others before seeking to be understood themselves. If you’d like to become a more effective listener and understand the people around you better and collaborate with them more effectively, read on…
- If you want to master your relationships with the people around you, you need to be able to understand what they want, and how they are trying to win in whatever they’re doing. By listening carefully, and attentively to them, you give yourself a chance to understand how you can contribute to their success and how you can help them to get what they’re trying to achieve. Listen to them. Really listen. Don’t assume that you and your intuition can figure it out on your own, get busy figuring out what they need and what they want, by asking them, and paying rapt attention until you figure out where they’re headed and how you can help them to arrive at their destination. Having done so, you can assume that you will have earned their trust, their respect, and probably also their reciprocal desire to help you to get what you want. Pretty fabulous, don’t you think?
- One of the best ways to indicate that you care about the person you’re speaking with is by listening closely and occasionally clarifying what they’re saying by saying something like, “So, if I understand you, Jane, you’re saying _______, am I understanding you correctly?” Furthermore, a great way to demonstrate that you’re listening with care is to summarize the conversation as it nears its end. This is particularly useful when the conversation has been either lengthy or complex in its content. You can do this by saying something like, “OK, Bill, I want to just summarize a bit before we break, to ensure that we’re both clear about what we’ve discussed, so we’re going to do X, Y, and Z in the next two weeks, is my understanding correct?”. If you’re not correct, Bill will let you know and you can move forward with a clarified understanding of what was communicated when Bill went deeper.
- You’ve got to put yourself into the other person’s shoes and find out what it’s like to walk a mile or two in those shoes. Empathy is a very valuable trait when you’re trying to understand what another person is trying to accomplish and you’re also trying to determine how you can best contribute to their success in achieving those accomplishments. Focus first on how you see them. Do you see them as an interruption? A problem? Pain in your neck? Trust me, that is not the right mindset to start from if you want to demonstrate empathy and reach a deep understanding. If you’re going to have a satisfying conversation with your fellow person, you need to start by seeing them as full, whole, complete, and deserving human beings. You’ve got to start from a place where you see them as worthy, and well worth your time and energy. With that start, you’ll be four or five steps closer to arriving at a positive understanding with one another.
- Think before you speak. When you’re in a conversation with one of your peers and you’re listening attentively, you’re going to hear a lot of things. Some of them are going to be very direct, very simple, and very clear. Other things you hear are not going to be quite so direct, complex, rather than simple, and may, in fact, be murky instead of clear. That’s when it’s time to remind yourself to dust off that cranium of yours and fire up the neurons and start thinking about what you’re hearing. Your emotions are going to want to have their way with you, and you’re going to have to resist the urge to let your emotions dictate your response on their own. Spend a moment or two, or better yet, invest a moment or two thinking about how you want to receive the message you’ve just heard. Ask yourself how you want to position yourself to respond in the most positive and proactive way. Think about it. Then do it.
Well, that’s all folks, as Mel Blanc used to say. I hope you’ve found our little series of Blog Articles and these several Best Practices on Listening With Purpose useful. I truly hope that you will benefit by moving to listen and understanding others further up on your priority list. In our experience, there are few things in life that can be more positive and impactful than making a commitment to listening well and seeking to understand the people around you as you live and work. We have no doubt that if you commit to listening as best you can, you will have much more success in work and in life. Here’s to your return on the investment in listening well and understanding others!
Michael Beach is an award-winning Master Leadership and Executive Development Coach. Michael is a very active member of the Professional Business Coaches Alliance and founded Michael Beach Coaching & Consulting a firm that helps fast-growth companies all over the United States. Michael’s firm has five coaches located in Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, and Arizona. Michael Beach Coaching & Consulting’s talented coaches can help you with your health and wellness, your diet, your exercise habits, your leadership acumen, your people management skills, your Financial Management abilities, how to run a fast-growth technology company, and everything in between. If you’d like more information, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.