In Dr. Stephen Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the fifth habit is: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Covey considers this habit to be the most important one for interpersonal relationships.

Human nature being what it is (and that’s the problem!), we so often degenerate to expecting everyone else to understand us first.  After all, isn’t our position always best anyway?  Given that reality, our personal and business relationships can frequently be polluted by a selfish demand that we be understood.

I love Covey’s perspective here, because he essentially is saying, “Stop!  Don’t expect others to understand your position until you have first taken the time and energy to understand their position.”

Now a funny thing happens on the way to understanding the other person’s position—you build your relationship.  That investment of time, communication, and caring all translates to a strengthened bond between the two of you.

Once that occurs, that other person starts to think you’re not such a bad person after all.  Barriers come down.  Doors open.  Now that person is receptive to understanding your position more deeply and more accurately.  You will have earned the right to be heard.  By seeking to understand, you became understood.

The next time you are facing a challenge with another person, try to understand that person’s position better than you could ever imagine.  Seek to gain that person’s perspective to the fullest degree possible.  In so doing, you will be laying the groundwork for a relationship that becomes more positive and that leads to outstanding solutions.

Ultimately, you will both be understood.  And that’s a good place to arrive.

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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