There is a guiding principle that I am sure many of you are familiar with and may have put into practice in your daily communications. It’s the principle that Stephen Covey shared in his bestselling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”
This is a terrific concept that sounds awesome, and one that could easily add value to the conversations we are having and to the relationships we are building. If this is true, why isn’t this something that we practice more often? Is it because we want to be the one doing most of the talking? Is it because we are so convicted in our belief or position on a particular subject that we don’t want to give voice to a different way of thinking?
A couple of the core tenets of critical thinking, including gathering information and exploring other points of view, may help here. When we take the time to gather the information and take into consideration other points of view, it starts to help us gain a new and maybe different perspective. And by seeking first to understand the other person and what their perspective might be and why we are giving them the same respect and courtesy that we expect them to offer us as we both try and understand one another.
A lack of understanding causes confusion, and confusion leads to frustration. Frustration leads to a breakdown in communication. And a breakdown in communication leads to the erosion of trust. And the erosion of trust puts us at risk in all our personal and professional relationships.
There are times when we are faced with having to have difficult conversations in life. Maybe it is a situation or subject where we are the ones who must initiate that conversation. And perhaps someone else may need to talk to us about a difficult topic. In either case, no matter how challenging the discussion might be, it would be so much easier and remove all the angst for both parties if we could take the time to gain insights, perspective and the “why” behind the “what” so that we can better understand one another.
When we can begin to understand the “why” behind the “what,” it gives us new perspective. Absence of perspective and understanding causes us unnecessary stress in all areas of our daily lives: parent and child; teacher and student; wife and husband; friend and friend; employer and employee; coach and athlete; client and salesperson; just to name a few.
This idea of seeking first to understand and then be understood may not bring resolution to every conflict, but my experience tells me that it leads to creating an environment where people with different points of view can amicably agree to disagree.
What do we have to gain by trying this? Peace of mind. Higher quality conversations. Deeper relationships based on open and honest communication. Greater opportunities to advance in our career. What might happen if we do not try to understand others first? People stop coming to us when there is something to talk about. We create a breeding ground for resentment. We build walls instead of bridges. And sooner or later we become the only one who listens to the opinions and ideas that we have to share, no matter how brilliant they may be.
We have some very pressing issues facing our communities and our nation. We all have our position or may have planted our stake in the ground relative to our beliefs. My encouragement here is to apply some critical thinking by gathering as much information as possible, exploring other points of view, and seeking first to understand before trying so hard to be understood.
How about you? Is it more important for you to be understood? Or do you make the effort to truly understand other points of view? I would love to hear your story at email@example.com and when we can remember that it’s all about perspective, it really will be a better than good week.
10.14.20 | Michael Norton