(part 6 of the series on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

You can find an overview of all the habits in this blog

Habit #5: seek first to understand, then to be understood

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intend to reply.
Do you recognize this? And how do you feel when this happens to you?

The problem

We often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really deeply understand the problem first. We have a tendency to rush in, to fix things with good advice.

But this often leaves the other person feeling not being heard or truly understood. And this causes pain. In the long run, there is not trust left, so they stop sharing their feelings.

Women screaming when not being understood

Frustration if you are not being understood

Empathic listening

The essence is not that you agree with someone, but that you fully understand that person. Empathic listening is based on character that inspires openness and trust.

It involves emotional as well as intellectual understanding. Listen, not only with your ears, but also with your eyes and heart.

I only recently learned this…

I was one of those persons providing solutions before the question was even posed. As long as I had someone like me – an analytical, left-brain focused person – in front of me there was no problem. As soon as this was not the case, I thought I did the right thing by helping them out with a solution. But did I?

My perspective changed after my wake up call, which knocked my left brain site out temporarily. To make a long story short, it caused a huge shift. I became a much more empathic person. And I saw that I caused pain to others as I often did not truly listen to them. As I was now experiencing this same pain of not being understood.

How to be more empathic

The chapter on Habit 5 in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People describes exactly the steps. In short, they are:

  • mimicking content
  • rephrasing content
  • reflect the feeling you observe

But only skills will not be effective. You need to have a true desire to understand. If you can interact and communicate at a deeper level, you can create a situation in which you have transforming impact.

A community providing support

And that is what happens in the SFM community. People listening to the pain of others, without judgement, trying to understand, and providing support. It does, however, requires the courage to be vulnerable. And that is the first step you have to take, if you want to be truly understood.

A final tip

Even when people do not want to open up about their problems, you can be empathic. You can sense their hearts, sense the hurt. By simply responding like “you seem down today” you show them understanding and respect. Don’t push, be patient, be respectful.