When you master the skill of understanding first and offering your opinions later you might find some big changes in your life or career. Taking aggressive positions on subjects or arguments typically doesn’t lead the way to the best relationships, or the best opportunities for career advancement.
For the Baby Boomer and Gen X population it might be Stephen R. Covey, who first brought forward the idea of, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. This represented an entire chapter in his 1989 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Whether consciously known to them or not, great communicators often follow Covey’s advice.
There is much more to be gained by being a better listener, seeking to understand, and evaluating the possible root causes of a miscommunication, a complaint, or a disagreement rather than quickly jumping to conclusions and assertively expressing your opinion.
When you’re seeking first to understand you’re either thinking to yourself, asking questions of others, or perhaps both. Here are a few thoughts or questions that might be helpful:
- What makes them (the other person) feel so strongly about their point?
- What background or past experiences have caused them to draw this conclusion?
- Do they seem considerate for mutual interests and compromise or are they taking a position?
- Are there any emotional triggers that anger them or make them adamant about their conviction?
Unfortunately current societal trends are sometimes supporting being the loudest, nastiest, or angriest you can be regardless of the consequences. Just because you can do it, doesn’t always mean it is a good idea.
Read that email you just received carefully and without bias. Listen carefully during conversations. Do your homework, read the book, or study from the diagram. Do it metaphorically or do it literally, but make sure you do it.
Ask open and honest questions, appropriately engage with others, and avoid having expectations or predetermining outcomes that support only your own agenda.
Your opinions might be important, valuable, and serve your position well, but only deliver them with the utmost courteously and respect.
Do as Covey suggested, “Seek first to understand.”
Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and corporate trainer that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is a four-time author and some of his work includes, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce and Pivot and Accelerate, The Next Move Is Yours! Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.