I don’t know how many of you readers have seen the film Music and Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant, but if you haven’t, it is a must-see film! Anyways, the basic storyline is that this “has-been” pop singer wants to get back on the music market, but he needs the help of a lyricist to step up his game. On a whim, he asks his subsitute gardner, if you will, to be his life savior and write him some lyrics since he heard her come up with a rhyming poem on the spot. Push comes to shove, and she decides to help him out. Throughout the entire film they have intense conversations mostly surrounding the “has been” and his life/past, but they never really talk about her life. However, things begin to change when the girl, at a vulnerable state, opens up about her past love life with her college professor. It is that moment that I want to discuss in this essay. What made her feel comfortable to open up with a practical stranger? What made Hugh Grant (the “has-been”) able to share his passions with this woman? Although there were many factors involved, including romantic interest, the key was what Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls “empathetic listening.”
Alongside my co-workers, I read pieces of Covey’s motivational book geared toward building stronger leaders for tomorrow’s future. This blog post will discuss Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Bottom-line, the author gives insight into how people communicate, and how the most common forms of communication are ineffective at building strong, comfortable relationships because they are based on the “what will I get out of this conversation?” attitude–the “how can I piece my story, my autobiography, into what words I am hearing my friend, acquaintence, or family member speak” mindset. To remedy this, Covey introduces the idea of “empathetic listening,” which includes taking the focus off of yourself and placing it back on the other person you’re communicating with. This skill is necessary to truly show people that you are genuine and care about what they are saying.
So next time you’re engaging in a conversation, practice empathetic listening; it will get you far in life 🙂
Post submitted by Casey O’Neill
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey is one of my very favorite books. Part of Dr. Covey's message (addressed in Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood) is that people form opinions based on their own experiences. Unless they work hard to understand the other person's perspective, two people can see the same thing and form completely different viewpoints because they are understanding "autobiographically."
"If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating."
According to Dr. Covey, learning to communicate effectively is the most important life skill. In my experience, this skill is critical to good decision-making, whether you're a CEO, investor, mentor, partner, or an employee. At AboutOne, we run a daily stand-up meeting and I send a weekly newsletter in which I update our team on everything I think would be of interest to them, but I'm always looking for ways to communicate more clearly.
As much as I value Dr. Covey's 7 Habits, my recent experience on the receiving end of a startling series of miscommunications taught me that there is an important corollary to Habit 5, namely: "There's another side to the story."
Years ago I worked at a large software company and one night I came home and vented to my husband about issues I had with my new boss. I felt that my new boss was a bad manager, was making bad decisions, and was sending the team in the wrong direction. My husband surprised me when he asked if I'd spent time with my boss to understand all the facts. He asked me if I'd discussed my concerns with my boss, or had made any attempt at all to understand the reasons behind the decisions I was so concerned about. He asked me if I'd listened to and heard my boss. It is in my husband's Austrian nature to be direct, but his questions were spot on and exactly what I needed to hear.
Although convinced I already knew all the facts, I decided to follow my husband's advice. I invited my boss for coffee and openly and honestly asked why he'd made his recent decisions. As we drank our coffee, it became clear that I really only had half the story. Once I heard the full 360 degree view of why my boss made the decisions he did and their actual outcomes and impact on our team, I realized my husband was right. I'd made assumptions about my boss' decisions... and you know what they say about assuming!
The lesson I learned from that experience is still something I pull from today. To be a good CEO, manager, advisor, investor, or even a good parent, you need to listen so that you can understand. It's important to get the facts from everyone involved, and (this sounds obvious, but you'd be amazed how many people fail to do this) never make big decisions based on one half of a story -- no matter who is telling it.
Have you made a decision recently without being open and honest with the person you're judging? Have you asked their opinion and been open to listening... really listening to hear and understand, not just listening to respond or talk?
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