Book Reviews Coaching Communication Development Leadership Mastery Mindfulness Potential Productivity Relationship Building

The 7 habits of highly effective people: seek first to understand

Today, we’re continuing our series on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.


If you’ve missed any of the previous installments, you can access them below:

In Part 1 ,we discussed the importance of taking initiative and being proactive in life.

In Part 2, we discussed how getting clear on your values will help you live a more meaningful and satisfying life.

In Part 3, we covered the necessity behind time management and effectively setting goals.

In Part 4, we talked about the notion of thinking ‘win-win’ to build your character and create better relationships.


So let’s now discuss Habit #5 in Covey’s bestselling book: seek first to understand and then to be understood.

This is a foundational pillar of better communication. Unfortunately, it’s also one that many people so easily overlook. It’s been said that when we engage in conversations with others, most people tend to listen simply with the intent to respond. While they give off the impression of being active participants in the discussion, they’re not really invested in what the other person is saying…they’re instead too busy building their own responses and preparing for the moment when they’ll be able to speak again.

Think about the last time you had a conversation with a team member regarding a new project? Perhaps the team member was expressing concerns about the timeline for the project or its concept. Were you 100% present in that conversation…or, as the team member aired their thoughts, were the wheels inside your head already spinning as you thought up solutions, strategies, and assurances?

To be more effective leaders, however, we must learn to practice emphatic listening. Emphatic listening is listening with the intent to understand, both intellectually and emotionally. When you listen to others in this manner, it allows you to understand how they view the world, where they’re coming from, and what their frame of reference is.

Why is this important? For one, it better positions you to offer the right solution that will appeal to the other party or to frame your proposal in the way that’s most likely to be accepted. Imagine always having the advantage of knowing how to say the right thing at the right time, thus endearing others to you. Great leaders meet people where they are and know how to win over and influence those with whom they come into contact.


So how can you start listening more emphatically?

There are 4 developmental stages to emphatic listening.

  • The first stage involves what you might’ve heard as “active” or “reflective” listening. This is essentially when you simply repeat verbatim what comes out of someone’s mouth as a way of ensuring that you’ve understood them correctly.
  • In the second stage, instead of repeating content verbatim, you rephrase it. In other words, you’re putting the meaning into your own words by incorporating the reasoning, logical left side of the brain.
  • The third stage relies on the right side of the brain and brings in feeling. Here, you’re not so much paying attention to what’s being said as you are to the way the other person feels about what’s being said.
  • Finally, in the fourth stage, you’ve learned to incorporate both the second and third practices from above. You not only rephrase the content in your own words in a logical way, but you also acknowledge the feeling behind the content. In this way, by using both sides of your brain, you’re understanding both sides of the communication.

Operating from the fourth developmental stage regularly will allow you to practice emphatic listening again and again…and eventually master it.


Most of us can admit that when it comes to communication, we’ve mostly been inclined toward being understood first above understanding others. However, when we practice emphatic listening and seek to understand others’ points of view and perspectives, we allow ourselves to grow as individuals and leaders and better position ourselves to thrive in the workplace.

Sharing is caring!