The 5th habit of Highly Effective People is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. So often we try to make others understand us, and why our idea/point/thought is more valuable, that we lose the ability to listen to others. Sometimes, instead of listening to others, we rack our brains to quickly formulate our response, listening only for gaps in their argument. This habit does not breed collaboration. I know I’ve been guilty of this, whether during an argument with a sibling, or a project meeting with colleagues.
What I’ve learned is this: the more I seek to be understood first, the more disappointed/upset I feel when my idea/point/thought is shot-down or dismissed. When I think about the times that I sought to understand first, I learned more about others’ priorities, expectations and motivations. This helped me to understand how my perspective would be received and afforded me the opportunity to tailor it and put it in context for the other person.
Think about a conduct meeting with a student. The meetings that begin with “Tell me why you’re here” tend to go better than those that begin with “You punched a guy in the face, that’s not ok. Why did you do that?” The first option opens the door to conversation. The latter immediately puts the other person on the defensive.
Or imagine a new supervisor coming in to your institution. If they start off with a “this is how I did it in my last job, this is what worked at XYZ university, so that’s what we’re going to do here” approach, they probably won’t win many people over. Instead, if they put the time in to learning about the department, its people and processes, they will likely be in a better position to make positive change and obtain buy-in.
Today, as you interact with others, pay attention to your habits. Do you seek to understand first? Or seek to be understood first? If it’s the latter, try to make a concerted effort to understand others first. You might be amazed at the impact it has and the difference it makes.
How do you seek to understand others? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.