Seek First To Understand

Habit #5 of Stephen Covey’s classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’

Here’s an example of why this is so critical and how you can avoid this misstep:

A few weeks ago I returned from vacation and became aware of some details that appeared to adversely affect my team. The trail ultimately led back to a stakeholder of mine. What did I do? Did I call him or set a meeting to learn more and understand his position first? No, I gave in to my angry emotion and drafted a strongly worded email and pressed send.

Breaking habit #5 is an amateur move. All the great leaders I’ve worked with always genuinely look to hear the full story first before making any rash decisions or spewing rhetoric. Did I feel better after I wrote the email? Yes – for about 60 seconds, and then realized that indulging myself and drawing a line in the sand with this colleague wasn’t going to improve the situation.

We exchanged further emails and agreed to meet a few days later to discuss. I opened the conversation by apologizing for my initial email which, he admitted, caught him off guard. I explained that I had just gotten back from vacation, received word from someone what was happening, and mistakenly jumped the gun by letting him know exactly what I thought. Thankfully he and I have worked together long enough that he recognized it for what it was, and went on to explain his rationale for the situation, which in the end made a lot of sense.

Lesson: always seek to understand first, then to be understood. It saves time, energy, and often times, relationships.

Have you ever burned yourself by breaking this rule? I’d love to hear about it – send me a quick note or share in the comments section below!

Be great,
Ian

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