Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

The fifth habit: Seek First to understand, then to be understood.

This idea that most people do not listen with the intent to understand, rather they listen with the intent to reply was a bit of an eye opener for me. I know that it is something I have been guilty of in the past.

I have also realised that almost every time I have allowed myself to get into an argument it has invariably happened because I have not listened with the intent to understand.

And from experience when I find myself arguing in the vast majority of cases I am a lot less effective.

The more you listen with the intent to understand the greater the depth of conversation you can have in both personal and business situations…

Although it is sometimes nice when you are misunderstood! On the plane for example I asked for a spicy tomato juice and by mistake I got it with vodka in! A bit of a treat!

But seriously the more you strive to understand, the better the results you will get when you communicate.

There is a fantastic quote by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway which says:

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.

And this is a great example of really seeking to understand before then making sure that you are understood.

The fifth habit of highly effective people is all about interpersonal communication and is really important.

Covey suggests that when someone speaks to us we typically listen in one of four different ways, when we should really be trying to listen in the fifth way. These are the first four:

  • We pretend to listen but in reality we are ignoring them and what is said tends to go in one ear and out the other
  • We may listen selectively and only hear certain parts of the conversation
  • And we may practice selective listening where we only hear aspects of the conversation.
  • We may also practice attentive listening where we pay attention to what is said.

I suspect you may well recognise the way that you listen amongst those, I know that I do!

However few of us listen or even practice the fifth lesson – empathic listening,

This is where we really try to understand what is said and is useful because it gives us much better information. So rather than letting our own ideas dictate what we think people are saying we can actually have a good understanding of what they are thinking.

In the book Covey suggests that there are four ways to really improve empathic listening:

  1. The least effective is to just listen to what is being said and then repeat them
  2. The second is to rephrase what is being said to us. This brings the left side of the brain into play and we are now thinking about it with our logical side
  3. Now we start paying attention to how they feel about what they are saying.
  4. The final stage is where we rephrase what is said to us and we think about the emotion of what they are saying.

Once we have listened and understood we can then make sure that we in turn are understood in our responses.

I find these interesting exercises to do and would love to hear which of the stages of listening you are currently at and whether you have tried any of these methods for improving your listening skills.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.