Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seek to Understand

As I've been reading through Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, very slowly, trying to deeply understand each chapter, each of the habits seems to have resonated with what was going on in my life, right at that time.

Covey's first habit ('Be Proactive') came as I was trying to take control of my life and after being highly influenced by a workshop I took with 'David' (see my post on Deciding, 2/19/10, for more on this). As I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I was reading the chapter on 'Begin with the End in Mind' (see my post, Goals, 5/4/10). Then, as I began to try to figure out how to organize my life, there was his chapter on 'Put First Things First' (which I wrote about in Priorities, 6/26/10). I talked about wanting to take a break from writing about these 'habits' but then I started a thread on this blog about how we could be in a world headed for collapse, which begin focusing on how we could benefit others, and his next chapter, on 'Think Win/Win', fit so beautifully in with this, I had to write about it (see Win/Win, 7/30/10).

Now I have taken a break, mostly because I have been struggling with the content of Covey's next habit--one that may be critical to the way I want to make my life and one that's been very hard to for me to implement. Fortunately, without any planning on my part, a small group coalesced around me and we have been focusing on 'Nonviolent Communication' (aka NVC, which I will write more on in my next post). NVC, which was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, seems a deeper, more developed version of Covey's fifth habit, which he calls, 'Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood'. The amazing back and forth of reading Covey and Rosenberg, reminds me on the way I was supported on learning Covey's first habit by my workshop with David. It's almost as if life really wants me to learn these habits and is giving me the support that I need, right as I need it. (I will talk more about this in my next post.)

Covey talks about four 'autobiographical' (as in, more related to what is going on with us than what the other person is saying) responses that we usually give others: we evaluate (do we agree with this?), we probe (asking questions that come mostly from our own frame of reference), we advise (counseling others from our own experience), or we interpret (figuring others out by how we see motives and behavior).

He also talks about the four stages of what he calls 'empathic listening': the first is just to mimic content--reflect back just what the person is saying. More advanced is to rephrase what the person is saying. Even more advanced is to reflect back the feeling from the person rather than the content. Covey's fourth, and most advanced stage, of empathic listening is to combine a paraphrase of what the person is saying with reflection of the feeling.

Stephen Covey is clear here that this just can't be a technique. You need to be serious and sincere to do this right. That's why this is the fifth habit in the book. All the character building of the first four habits are used here. You need to be real, you need to be present, you need to listen, and you need to let the other person know you are listening through giving them back both the content of what they are saying and the feeling behind it. Sometimes you won't get it right but you need to stay with the person and what they are saying until both of you are clear that you indeed understand.

Beyond this, you need to be able to then make yourself understood, but only after you have let the other person know (through empathic listening) that you have understood them. Covey cites a Greek phrase: ethos, pathos, logos. Ethos is your character, your ethics. Pathos is the emotional, empathic response. Logos is logical, rational side of the explanation. He points out that the order is very important. First, build your character, then, really understand the other person's feelings, and only after all that, apply reasoning to what you are trying to say.

All this is related to his last habit, 'Think Win/Win'. First, you have to believe it's possible. This is how to achieve it.

Quote of the Day: "'Seek first to understand' involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ...
"Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel. ...
"Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you're dealing with the reality inside another person's head and heart." - Stephen Covey

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