Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Article 2

The second article is from Iain Wingham who shares why he is a believer of Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

I get most frustrated when I see leaders and managers within an organisation not listening to their peers and team members effectively, and then seeming almost surprised when they don’t get the results or output they were expecting on the project. I have lost count of the times that I see this negative communication cycle and lack of empathy occur during meetings and on conference calls, and it plays out the same every time.

In my experience negative communications often start like this; a team member is explaining an important aspect of a project or trying to get their point of view across about something they believe to be important, but the person that is meant to be listening (‘The Manager‘) has clearly not been listening to the other person and just responds with what they wanted to say to get their own point of view across. There is a big difference between listening and then responding to a person appropriately and just waiting for your turn to talk. All too often I see and hear people that are only ever waiting for their turn to talk.

This cycle of communication within a team is toxic and will nearly always lead to bad feeling between managers and their teams. So often I have listened to teams moaning about a manager who doesn’t listen to their problems or concerns. They often use statements like, “they just don’t understand” or “he just doesn’t care what we think, it’s his way or the highway”. On the flip side, I then listen to the manager of that team talking negatively about his team, saying things like, “they just don’t do a thing I tell them” and “the problem is they just don’t understand the bigger picture”.  

The irony is that this negative cycle of communication can be overcome on most occasions just through people taking the time to listen and acknowledge what each other is saying. As Covey himself said, “seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say”. Very often, even if people don’t agree on something, just by listening to each other and acknowledging each other’s point of view a common ground can be agreed. This is why I believe Covey’s 5th Habit, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood is so important. It ensures an effective and open environment of communication is adopted in a team. Something as simple as listening to people builds trust, confidence and helps establish lasting, effective relationships, creating an effective team all pulling in the same direction.

Iain Wingham