Disc 1 802 As your second discussion board topic post, base your submission on the readings: Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Covey, 1989),

Disc 1 802 As your second discussion board topic post, base your submission on the readings: Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Covey, 1989), and Active Listening (Coles, 2018). From these readings, (1) describe five things that you found to be most important, (2) list anything that you disagree with and why, and (3) what are the organizational implications inferred by each of authors in these selections? Habit 5:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood TM

Principles of Empathic Communication

The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.


Suppose you’ve been having trouble with your eyes and you decide to go to an
optometrist for help. After briefly listening to your complaint, he takes off his glasses and
hands them to you.

“Put these on,” he says. “I’ve worn this pair of glasses for 10 years now and they’ve really
helped me. I have an extra pair at home; you can wear these.”

So you put them on, but it only makes the problem worse

“This is terrible!” you exclaim. “I can’t see a thing!”

“Well, what’s wrong?” he asks. “They work great for me. Try harder.”

“I am trying,” you insist. “Everything is a blur.”

“Well, what’s the matter with you? Think positively.”

“Okay. I positively can’t see a thing.”

“Boy, you are ungrateful!” he chides. “And after all I’ve done to help you!”

What are the chances you’d go back to that optometrist the next time you need help? Not
very good, I would imagine. You don’t have much confidence in someone who doesn’t
diagnose before he or she prescribes.

But how often do we diagnose before we prescribe in communication?

“Come on, honey, tell me how you feel. I know it’s hard, but I’ll try to understand.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Mom. You’d think it was stupid.”

“Of course I wouldn’t! You can tell me. Honey, no one cares for you as much as I do. I’m
only interested in your welfare. What’s making you so unhappy?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Come on, honey. What is it?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I just don’t like school anymore.”


“What?” you respond incredulously. “What do you mean you don’t like school? And after
all the sacrifices we’ve made for your education! Education is the foundation of your
future. If you’d apply yourself like your older sister does, you’d do better and then you’d
like school. Time and time again, we’ve told you to settle down. You’ve got the ability,
but you just don’t apply yourself. Try harder. Get a positive attitude about it.”


“Now go ahead. Tell me how you feel.”

We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail
to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.

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.

Character and Communication

Right now, you’re reading a book I’ve written. Reading and writing are both forms of
communication. So are speaking and listening. In fact, those are the four basic types of
communication. And think of all the hours you spend doing at least one of those four
things. The ability to do them well is absolutely critical to your effectiveness.

Communication is the most important skill in life. We spend most of our waking hours
communicating. But consider this: You’ve spent years learning how to read and write,
years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have
you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human
being from that individual’s own frame of reference?

Comparatively few people have had any training in listening at all. And, for the most
part, their training has been in the personality ethic of technique, truncated from the
character base and the relationship base absolutely vital to authentic understanding of
another person.

If you want to interact effectively with me, to influence me — your spouse, your child,
your neighbor, your boss, your coworker, your friend — you first need to understand me.
And you can’t do that with technique alone. If I sense you’re using some technique, I
sense duplicity, manipulation. I wonder why you’re doing it, what your motives are. And
I don’t feel safe enough to open myself up to you.

The real key to your influence with me is your example, your actual conduct. Your
example flows naturally out of your character, of the kind of person you truly are — not
what others say you are or what you may want me to think you are. It is evident in how I
actually experience you.

Your character is constantly radiating, communicating. From it, in the long run, I come to
instinctively trust or distrust you and your efforts with me.

If your life runs hot and cold, if you’re both caustic and kind, and, above all, if your
private performance doesn’t square with your public performance, it’s very hard for me
to open up with you. Then, as much as I may want and even need to receive your love


and influence, I don’t feel safe enough to expose my opinions and experiences and my
tender feelings. Who knows what will happen?

But unless I open up with you, unless you understand me and my unique situation and
feelings, you won’t know how to advise or counsel me. What you say is good and fine,
but it doesn’t quite pertain to me.
You may say you care about and appreciate me. I desperately want to believe that. But
how can you appreciate me when you don’t even understand me? All I have are your
words, and I can’t trust words.

I’m too angry and defensive — perhaps too guilty and afraid — to be influenced, even
though inside I know I need what you could tell me.

Unless you’re influenced by my uniqueness, I’m not going to be influenced by your
advice. So if you want to be really effective in the habit of interpersonal communication,
you cannot do it with technique alone. You have to build the skills of empathic listening
on a base of character that inspires openness and trust. And you have to build the
Emotional Bank Accounts that create a commerce between hearts.

Empathic Listening

“Seek first to understand” involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first
to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen
with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering
everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s

“Oh, I know exactly how you feel!”

“I went through the very same thing. Let me tell you about my experience.”

They’re constantly projecting their own home movies onto other people’s behavior. They
prescribe their own glasses for everyone with whom they interact.

If they have a problem with someone — a son, a daughter, a spouse, an employee — their
attitude is, “That person just doesn’t understand.”

A father once told me, “I can’t understand my kid. He just won’t listen to me at all.”

“Let me restate what you just said,” I replied. “You don’t understand your son because he
won’t listen to you?”

“That’s right,” he replied.

“Let me try again,” I said. “You don’t understand your son because he won’t listen to

“That’s what I said,” he impatiently replied.

“I thought that to understand another person, you needed to listen to him,” I suggested.


“OH!” he said. There was a long pause. “Oh!” he said again, as the light began to dawn.
“Oh, yeah! But I do understand him. I know what he’s going through. I went through the
same thing myself. I guess what I don’t understand is why he won’t listen to me.”

This man didn’t have the vaguest idea of what was really going on inside his boy’s head.
He looked into his own head and thought he saw the world, including his boy.

That’s the case with so many of us. We’re filled with our own rightness, our own
autobiography. We want to be understood. Our conversations become collective
monologues, and we never really understand what’s going on inside another human

When another person speaks, we’re usually “listening” at one of four levels. We may be
ignoring another person, not really listening at all. We may practice pretending. “Yeah.
Uh-huh. Right.”

We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the constant chatter of a
preschool child. Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and
focusing energy on the words that are being said. But very few of us ever practice the
fifth level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening.

When I say empathic listening, I am not referring to the techniques of “active” listening or
“reflective” listening, which basically involve mimicking what another person says. That
kind of listening is skill-based, truncated from character and relationship, and often
insults those “listened” to in such a way. It is also essentially autobiographical. If you
practice those techniques, you may not project your autobiography in the actual
interaction, but your motive in listening is autobiographical. You listen with reflective
skills, but you listen with intent to reply, to control, to manipulate.

When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean
seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm.

Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You
look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their
paradigm, you understand how they feel.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgment. And it
is sometimes the more appropriate emotion and response. But people often feed on
sympathy. It makes them dependent. The essence of empathic listening is not that you
agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as
well as intellectually.

Empathic listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even
understanding the words that are said. Communications experts estimate, in fact, that
only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30
percent is represented by our sounds, and 60 percent by our body language. In empathic
listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your
eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You
use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.

Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with.
Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thought, feelings, motives,
and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart.


You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of
another human soul.

In addition, empathic listening is the key to making deposits in Emotional Bank
Accounts, because nothing you do is a deposit unless the other person perceives it as
such. You can work your fingers to the bone to make a deposit, only to have it turn into a
withdrawal when a person regards your efforts as manipulative, self-serving,
intimidating, or condescending because you don’t understand what really matters to him.

Empathic listening is, in and of itself, a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank
Account. It’s deeply therapeutic and healing because it gives a person “psychological air.

If all the air were suddenly sucked out of the room you’re in right now, what would
happen to your interest in this book? You wouldn’t care about the book; you wouldn’t
care about anything except getting air. Survival would be your only motivation.

But now that you have air, it doesn’t motivate you. This is one of the greatest insights in
the field of human motivations: Satisfied needs do not motivate. It’s only the unsatisfied
need that motivates. Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is
psychological survival — to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be

When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.
And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.

This need for psychological air impacts communication in every area of life.

I taught this concept at a seminar in Chicago one time, and I instructed the participants to
practice empathic listening during the evening. The next morning, a man came up to me
almost bursting with news.

“Let me tell you what happened last night,” he said. “I was trying to close a big
commercial real estate deal while I was here in Chicago. I met with the principals, their
attorneys, and another real estate agent who had just been brought in with an alternative

“It looked as if I were going to lose the deal. I had been working on this deal for over six
months and, in a very real sense, all my eggs were in this one basket. All of them. I
panicked. I did everything I could — I pulled out all the stops — I used every sales
technique I could. The final stop was to say, ‘Could we delay this decision just a little
longer?’ But the momentum was so strong and they were so disgusted by having this
thing go on so long, it was obvious they were going to close.

“So I said to myself, ‘Well, why not try it? Why not practice what I learned today and seek
first to understand, then to be understood? I’ve got nothing to lose.’

“I just said to the man, ‘Let me see if I really understand what your position is and what
your concerns about my recommendations really are. When you feel I understand them,
then we’ll see whether my proposal has any relevance or not.’

“I really tried to put myself in his shoes. I tried to verbalize his needs and concerns, and
he began to open up.


“The more I sensed and expressed the things he was worried about, the results he
anticipated, the more he opened up.

“Finally, in the middle of our conversation, he stood up, walked over to the phone, and
dialed his wife. Putting his hand over the mouthpiece, he said, ‘You’ve got the deal.’

“I was totally dumbfounded,” he told me. “I still am this morning.

He had made a huge deposit in the Emotional Bank Account by giving the man
psychological air. When it comes right down to it, other things being relatively equal, the
human dynamic is more important than the technical dimensions of the deal.

Seeking first to understand, diagnosing before you prescribe, is hard. It’s so much easier
in the short run to hand someone a pair of glasses that have fit you so well these many

But in the long run, it severely depletes both P and PC. You can’t achieve maximum
interdependent production from an inaccurate understanding of where other people are
coming from. And you can’t have interpersonal PC — high Emotional Bank Accounts — if
the people you relate with don’t really feel understood.

Empathic listening is also risky. It takes a great deal of security to go into a deep listening
experience because you open yourself up to be influenced. You become vulnerable. It’s a
paradox, in a sense, because in order to have influence, you have to be influenced. That
means you have to really understand.

That’s why Habits 1, 2, and 3 are so foundational. They give you the changeless inner
core, the principle center, from which you can handle the more outward vulnerability
with peace and strength.

Diagnose Before You Prescribe

Although it’s risky and hard, seek first to understand, or diagnose before you prescribe, is
a correct principle manifesting many areas of life. It’s the mark of all true professionals.
It’s critical for the optometrist, it’s critical for the physician. You wouldn’t have any
confidence in a doctor’s prescription unless you had confidence in the diagnosis

When our daughter Jenny was only two months old, she was sick on Saturday, the day of
a football game in our community that dominated the consciousness of almost everyone.
It was an important game — some 60,000 people were there. Sandra and I would like to
have gone, but we didn’t want to leave little Jenny. Her vomiting and diarrhea had us

The doctor was at that game. He wasn’t our personal physician, but he was the one on
call. When Jenny’s situation got worse, we decided we needed some medical advice

Sandra dialed the stadium and had him paged. It was right at a critical time in the game,
and she could sense on officious tone in his voice. “Yes?” he said briskly. “What is it?”

“This is Mrs. Covey, Doctor, and we’re concerned about our daughter, Jenny.”

“What’s the situation?” he asked.


Sandra described the symptoms and he said, “Okay. I’ll call in a prescription. Which is
your pharmacy?”

When she hung up, Sandra felt that in her rush she hadn’t really given him full data, but
that what she had told him was adequate.

“Do you think he realizes that Jenny is just a newborn?” I asked her

“I’m sure he does,” Sandra replied.

“But he’s not our doctor. He’s never even treated her.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure he knows.”

“Are you willing to give her the medicine unless you’re absolutely sure he knows?”

Sandra was silent. “What are we going to do?” she finally said.

“Call him back,” I said.

“You call him back,” Sandra replied.

So I did. He was paged out of the game once again. “Doctor,” I said, “when you called in
that prescription, did your realize that Jenny is just two months old?”

“No!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t realize that. It’s good you called me back. I’ll change the
prescription immediately.”

If you don’t have confidence in the diagnosis, you won’t have confidence in the

This principle is also true in sales. An effective salesperson first seeks to understand the
needs, the concerns, the situation of the customer. The amateur salesman sells products;
the professional sells solutions to needs and problems. It’s a totally different approach.
The professional learns how to diagnose, how to understand. He also learns how to relate
people’s needs to his products and services. And, he has to have the integrity to say, “My
product or service will not meet that need” if it will not.

Diagnosing before you prescribe is also fundamental to law. The professional lawyer first
gathers the facts to understand the situation, to understand the laws and precedents,
before preparing a case.A good lawyer almost writes the opposing attorney’s case before
he writes his own.
It’s also true in product design. Can you imagine someone in a company saying, “This
consumer research stuff is for the birds. Let’s design products.” In other words, forget
understanding the consumer’s buying habits and motives — just design products. It
would never work.

A good engineer will understand the forces, the stresses at work, before designing the
bridge. A good teacher will assess the class before teaching. A good student will
understand before he applies. A good parent will understand before evaluation or
judging. The key to good judgment is understanding. By judging first, a person will never
fully understand.


Seek first to understand is a correct principle evident in all areas of life. It’s a generic,
common-denominator principle, but it has its greatest power in the area of interpersonal

Four Autobiographical Responses

Because we listen autobiographically, we tend to respond in one of four ways. We
evaluate — we either agree or disagree; we probe — we ask questions from our own frame
of reference; we advise — we give counsel based on our own experience; or we interpret —
we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behavior, based on our own
motives and behavior.

These responses come naturally to us. We are deeply scripted in them; we live around
models of them all the time. But how do they affect our ability to really understand?

If I’m trying to communicate with my son, can he feel free to open himself up to me when
I evaluate everything he says before he really explains it? Am I giving him psychological

And how does he feel when I probe? Probing is playing 20 questions. It’s
autobiographical, it controls, and it invades. It’s also logical, and the language of logic is
different from the language of sentiment and emotion. You can play 20 questions all day
and not find out what’s important to someone. Constant probing is one of the main
reasons parents do not get close to their children.

“How’s it going, son?”


“Well, what’s been happening lately?”


“So what’s exciting at school?”

“Not much.”

“And what are your plans for the weekend?”

“I don’t know.”

You can’t get him off the phone talking with his friends, but all he gives you is one- and
two-word answers. Your house is a motel where he eats and sleeps, but he never shares,
never opens up.

And when you think about it, honestly, why should he, if every time he does open up his
soft underbelly, you elephant stomp it with autobiographical advice and “I told you so’s.”

We are so deeply scripted in these responses that we don’t even realize when we use
them. I have taught this concept to thousands of people in seminars across the country,
and it never fails to shock them deeply as we role-play empathic listening situations and
they finally begin to listen to their own typical responses. But as they begin to see how
they normally respond and learn how to listen with empathy, they can see the dramatic


results in communication. To many, seek first to understand becomes the most exciting,
the most immediately applicable, of all the Seven Habits.

Let’s take a look at what well might be a typical communication between a father and his
teenage son. Look at the father’s words in terms of the four different responses we have
just described.

“Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds!”

“What’s the matter, Son?” (probing).

“It’s totally impractical. I don’t get a thing out of it.”

“Well, you just can’t see the benefits yet, Son. I felt the same way when I was your age.” I
remember thinking what a waste some of the classes were. But those classes turned out to
be the most helpful to me later on. Just hang in there. Give it some time” (advising).

“I’ve given it 10 years of my life! Can you tell me what good ‘x plus y’ is going to be to me
as an auto mechanic?”

“An auto mechanic? You’ve got to be kidding” (evaluating).

“No, I’m not. Look at Joe. He’s quit school. He’s working on cars. And he’s making lots of
money. Now that’s practical.”

“It may look that way now. But several years down the road, Joe’s going to wish he’d
stayed in school. You don’t want to be an auto mechanic. You need an education to
prepare you for something better than that” (advising).

“I don’t know. Joe’s got a pretty good set-up.”

“Look, Son, have you really tried?” (probing, evaluating).

“I’ve been in high school two years now. Sure I’ve tried. It’s just a waste.”

“That’s a highly respected school, Son. Give them a little credit” (advising, evaluating).

“Well, the other guys feel the same way I do.”

“Do you realize how many sacrifices your mother and I have made to get you to where
you are?

You can’t quit when you’ve come this far” (evaluating).

“I know you’ve sacrificed, Dad. But it’s just not worth it.” “Look, maybe if you spent more
time doing your homework and less time in front of TV.” (advising, evaluating).

“Look, Dad. It’s just no good. Oh, never mind! I don’t want to talk about this anyway.”

Obviously, his father was well intended. Obviously, he wanted to help. But did he even
begin toreally understand?


Let’s look more carefully at the son — not just his words, but his thoughts and feelings
(expressed parenthetically below) and the possible effect of some of his dad’s
autobiographical responses.

“Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds!” (I want to talk with you, to get your

“What’s the matter, Son?” (You’re interested! Good!)

“It’s totally impractical. I don’t get a thing out of it.” (I’ve got a problem with school, and I
feel just terrible.

“Well, you just can’t see the benefits yet, son. I felt the same way when I was your age.”
(Oh, no! Here comes Chapter three of Dad’s autobiography. This isn’t what I want to talk
about. I don’t really care how many miles he had to trudge through the snow to school
without any boots. I want to get to the problem.) “I remember thinking what a waste
some of the classes were. But those classes turned out to be the most helpful to me later
on. Just hang in there. Give it some time.” (Time won’t solve my problem. I wish I could
tell you. I wish I could just spit it out.)

“I’ve given it 10 years of my life! Can you tell me what good ‘x plus y’ is going to do me as
an auto mechanic?”

“An auto mechanic? You’ve got to be kidding.” ( He wouldn’t like me if I were an auto
mechanic. He wouldn’t like me if I didn’t finish school. I have to justify what I said.)

“No, I’m not. Look at Joe. He’s quit school. He’s working on cars. And he’s making lots of
money. Now that’s practical.”

“It may look that way now. But several years down the road, Joe’s going to wish he’d
stayed in school.” (Oh, Boy! here comes lecture number 16 on the value of an education.)
“You don’t want to be an auto mechanic.” (How do you know that, Dad? Do you really
have any idea what I want?) “You need an education to prepare you for something better
than that.”

“I don’t know. Joe’s got a pretty good set-up.” (He’s not a failure. He didn’t finish school
and he’s not a failure.)

“Look, Son, have you really tried?” (We’re beating around the bush, Dad. If you’d just
listen, I really need to talk to you about something important.)

“I’ve been in high school two years now. Sure I’ve tried. It’s just a waste.”

“That’s a highly respected school, Son. Give them a little credit.” (Oh, great. Now we’re
talking credibility. I wish I could talk about what I want to talk about.)

“Well, the other guys feel the same way I do.” (I have some credibility, too. I’m not a

“Do you realize how many sacrifices your mother and I have made to get you where you
(Uh-oh, here comes the guilt trip. Maybe I am a moron. The school’s great, Mom and Dad
are great, and I’m a moron.) “You can’t quit when you’ve come this far.”


“I know you’ve sacrificed, Dad. But it’s just not worth it.” (You just don’t understand.)

“Look, maybe if you spent more time doing your homework and less time in front of
TV…” (That’s not the problem, Dad! That’s not it at all! I’ll never be able to tell you. I was
dumb to try.)

“Look, Dad. It’s just no good. Oh, never mind! I don’t want to talk about this anyway.”

Can you see how limited we are when we try to understand another person on the basis
of words alone, especially when we’re looking at that person through our own glasses?
Can you see how limiting our autobiographical responses are to a person who is
genuinely trying to get us to understand his autobiography?

You will never be able to truly step inside another person, to see the world as he sees it,
until you develop the pure desire, the strength of personal character, and the positive
Emotional Bank Account, as well as the empathic listening skills to do it.

The …

Submit a Comment

Open chat