In a TV interview sometime ago, Stephen Covey described his The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People as guiding principles that “…encourage people to take a mindful approach to life – not letting trivial urgencies of day-to-day life get in the way of the most important things.”
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is indeed a seven-part model for effective performance in business and personal life. Its philosophy is that human beings can take control of their own destinies by how they react to life and external factors, and that they will achieve happiness, success and spiritual fulfillment if they adopt the seven habits Covey advocates.
In this article, I am only going to focus on the listening habits. Covey says that “most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.” Because we are so eager to get our own point of view across, we tend not to listen properly to what the other person is saying. If we can first understand what the speaker’s point of view is, it will be easier for us to respond in a positive and mutually beneficial way.
Covey recommends taking the time to listen to yourself (habits 1-3) in order to identify your own core values and goals. This step makes it possible for you to behave exactly as you believe the person you wish to be would behave, because it allows you to consult your own values and goals before acting. Thus, you act only in ways that are consistent with those values and goals. This step should be repeated regularly as time passes and circumstances change.
Covey then recommends listening to others (habits 4-6) in order to become aware of the values and goals of others. This enables you to find common ground and thus maintain productive relationships with them.
Covey also recommends regularly seeking to improve (habit 7) and reinforce yourself in ways that are important to you.
According to Covey, when we are speaking to anyone we are usually in one of the five “Listening States” –
1. Ignoring: – Not Listening
2. Pretend Listening: – We have all done this, saying “yeah”, “uh-huh”
3. Selective Listening: – Listening strictly to parts of the conversations and strictly from our point of view.
4. Attentive Listening: – Focusing and paying attention to the words
5. Empathetic Listening: – Listening from the other persons point of view, and seeing the world from the others persons perspective.
Most people think that Empathic Listening takes too much time; I have found that with time it becomes natural and you start to automatically do it. It all begins with practice and the dividends you will receive for this are enormous.
Empathic Listening is essential to effective communication. Covey emphasizes the importance, the power, and in some situations the necessity of not merely going through the mechanical responses that might be required for ordinary listening, but opening oneself to the talker to the point where one can actually feel what they are feeling. Covey, as others, believes that the only way to establish communication in some professional and personal situations is by becoming, in small part, the person you are listening to. He uses the words “sensing” (others call it “intuition”) to describe the information a listener can perceive through deep, empathic listening. The experience Covey describes, standing for a moment in another’s shoes and listening to the world through their ears is something everyone is capable of, but most of us rarely (if ever) deliberately do. It takes time to listen empathically and practice to become adept at it, but the reward is a whole new level of communication and problem solving because a person acquires the ability to see a situation simultaneously from multiple points of view.
Most people take the advice to “Listen” literally and are confused when the conversation dies or does not go anywhere. This is because “Listening” is a means to an end, not an end. Listening allows you to absorb information about the following:
a. What is important to the other person and
b. What the other person wants to talk about
At the end of the day, remember – listening is one of the most important parts of possessing excellent Social Skills. However, it is a means to an end and the end is to find out what the other person wants to talk about and what is important to the other person. Listen > Find out what these things are > Let them talk about it > Put yourself in their shoes (Empathic Listening) and talk about what you would do or answer the question from your own point of view (Selective Listening) and create a meaningful conversation.
Listening is essential to effectiveness as a speaker. Covey also points out that to be an effective speaker one has to absorb feedback from (listen to) one’s audience and adjust one’s presentations according to what works most effectively for them.
So, next time, when you are engaging in a conversation, practice empathetic listening; it will get you far in life.
Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit www.eMBCinc.com or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.