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Seeking First to Understand, Prior to Being Understood

We’ve all been on the receiving end of conversations where the person begins with a diatribe all while lacking an understanding of the situation.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of conversations where the person begins with a diatribe all while lacking an understanding of the situation. This is where Stephen Covey’s Fifth Habit of “Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood,” from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, comes to mind. It’s amazing how often people will insert themselves and their opinion into a situation with little or no knowledge. This style of operating does nothing more than add unwarranted drama to a situation that can oftentimes be managed easily with a little finesse and patience. When a manager chooses to operate this way, it’s either a huge blind spot of unawareness, or they are telling everyone around them that they cannot handle the situation. Basically, they are in over their heads...

If we observe those who have ascended into key roles within their companies, they are typically those who seek first to understand. They begin the process by doing what I call preemptive discovery, and from there, they ask a plethora of questions. In fact, they go into most every situation listening, all while already having a good feel for the lay of the land, and from there they ask clarifying questions. Once you master the art of well thought out and pointed questions, you are then able to speak with respectful authority. This allows you not only to know the state of affairs, but you will have also won the respect of your colleagues.

There may even come a point where you can take things to another level. This is what I refer to as strategic probing. I’m not talking about manipulation here; I am merely talking about effective communication which begins with seeking first to understand. Let’s face it, people can’t hear you and will essentially shut down if you come at them like a buzzsaw. To those who feel the need to wield positional power unnecessarily, I say, “You need to get over yourself.” That’s because, you may be able to run roughshod over junior type resources, but the senior high caliber folks will resist, rebel, and inevitably quit. 

Seeking first to understand starts with self-awareness and humility. Two important attributes of successful leaders and managers. Once you master the art of pre-knowledge, poise and showing ample respect, you will eventually get to where you are able to ask questions that you already know the answer to. You know, like a lawyer. Having this ability is what can catapult you from being good at what you do, to being in the zone of exceptionality. Once you are in the zone, you begin transforming from good to great!

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