If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication. –Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen Covey tells a story of a father who came to him saying, “I can’t understand my kid. He just won’t listen to me.” Covey patiently tried to get the dad to see the inconsistency of his statement. You don’t understand people by getting them to listen to you. You understand them when you listen to them.
Ever jump to understand a person’s view that disagrees with yours? The attempt to understand, or even listen, is not the first move of most people in conversation. People tend to jump to judge, to argue, to reject, to debate, but to understand? That’s in a minority of people.
But we can change that. and we need to. We can accept that listening to a differing view than ours is not going to cause the veins in our foreheads to explode. We can cool our jets of wanting to prove they’re wrong, and listen to others without creating a win-lose competition in conversation.
Listen up! If we want our point to be understood, it’s necessary to practice understanding the point of others. The basis of understanding and connecting with someone requires a lack of Drill-Sargent attitude and defensiveness. Sometimes we’re more interested in proving someone wrong than understanding a person’s opinions and beliefs. Instead of saying, “That’s not right,” it’s better to seek to understand and ask “Why do you think that?” This is the epitome of communicating with respect and unbiased mindfulness. Our relationships need this.
All advances to date in interests of humanity, medicine, and technology required open minds that sought to understand—that entertained differing views. But for some unfortunate people, most of their so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments to continue on believing as they already do. Their mind is closed. They have already judged their own opinion as being the only true and rational view and cling stubbornly to a mixture of unwarranted assumptions. This is fertile ground for intolerance to flourish.
Practice listening with the intention to understand, even if you disagree.
Think about it.
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