One of my mentors, Stephen Covey, passed away this week. No book, other than the Scriptures, has had a more significant impact on my life than his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 7 Habits is more than a business book or a self-help book. It is a book about how to be a better human being in all areas of life. And what made it even more impactful for those who knew Stephen is that he modeled what he taught.
Of all of the seven habits, none has changed my life more than Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. As a husband and father, leader, teacher, and friend, the skill of listening with empathy has not only made me more effective, it has transformed relationships.
Stephen Covey described empathic listening as, “Reflecting what a person feels and says in your own words to their satisfaction so they feel listened to and understood.” It means listening with your whole being—ears, eyes and heart.
When you make the time to truly listen to another person and make sure they know they were heard, you:
- Build trust—I believe nothing builds trust as deeply as truly listening to another person and trying to understand what they are saying and feeling from their perspective.
- Solve the “real” problem—Most of us tend to jump too quickly into problem solving without getting to the “real” problem first. Taking the time to listen for understanding, then reflecting what you have heard and felt, allows the real problem to surface.
- Diffuse feelings—Listening allows the other person to get their feelings out.
- Have greater influence—When the other person feels understood, they are more open to listening to you and you have a greater opportunity to influence them in a positive way.
Stephen Covey will be missed, but his spirit will live on through his books, his teachings, and his personal example. The next time you are dealing with an angry customer, an excited coworker, a troubled friend, or even a happy five year-old child, I encourage you to take the time to listen to their story. It’s a great way to honor Stephen Covey’s memory. You will be amazed by the impact truly listening has on the results, and more importantly, the relationship.
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read John’s posts on the first Monday of every month.