HABIT 5: SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND … THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD
There’s simply no way to have rich, rewarding family relationships without real understanding. Most mistakes with our family members are not the result of bad intent. It’s just that we don’t understand. We don’t see clearly into each other’s hearts.
Really listening to get inside another person’s mind and heart is called “empathic” listening. It enables you to see as someone else sees-and it also helps family members feel safe in sharing, gets to the real issues and helps people connect with their own unique gifts.
Suppose that for several days, your teenage daughter has seemed unhappy. One night, while you’re washing dishes together, she finally begins to open up: “Our family rule that I can’t date until I’m older is embarrassing me to death. All my friends are dating. I feel like I’m out of it.”
An empathic response would attempt to reflect back what your daughter feels and says, so that she would feel that you really understand. For example: “You kind of feel torn up inside. You understand the rule, but you feel embarrassed when you have to say no to dates. Is that what you mean?”
She might say yes and go on deeper into her feelings. Or she may say,
“Well, not exactly. What I really mean is…” When you give an understanding response, you make it safe for her to open up. You make it comfortable for her to air the problem so that together you can search for solutions. And you build the relationship.
There are other expressions of empathy besides summarizing and reflecting. Sometimes total silence may be empathic; sometimes a nod or a single word is empathic. Empathy is a very flexible, sincere and humble process.
But there’s more to Habit 5. It doesn’t mean seek only to understand. It simply means that you listen and understand first. This is the key to .being understood and influencing others. When you are open to their influence, you’ll almost always have greater influence with them.
One woman shared this:
My husband and I did not see eye to eye on spending. He wanted to buy things I felt were unnecessary and expensive. 1 couldn’t explain to him the pain I felt as our debt mounted.
Final I decided to find a different way to express myself and influence the situation. I realized that my husband sometimes just didn’t see the connection between his spending decisions and their consequences. So when he said, “lt. would really be nice to have (something),” I’d say, “You know, it would. Let’s see what would happen if we bought that.” I would take out the budget and say, “Now if we spend this, we won’t have money to do that.” When he truly saw the consequences of spending decisions, he often came to the conclusion himself that we were better off not buying the item in question. I also discovered that with some of the purchases he wanted to make, the benefits really did outweigh the drawbacks.
When people know they will have an opportunity to be fully heard, they can relax. They don’t have to become over-reactive, because they know that their time to be understood will come. This dissipates negative energy and helps people develop internal patience and self-control.
This is one of the great strengths of Habit 5. Remember, the key is in the sequence: First you seek to understand another person’s point of view; then you share your own. It’s not just what to do. It’s also why and when.