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Seek First to Understand

5Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Habit 5, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, is a continuation of Habit 4, Think Win/Win.  It is the idea that to truly think win/win, one must start with listening.  Thus the idea that one should seek first to understand, then to be understood.  We all view the world in different ways.  We have different values, different needs, and different paradigms.  Things that matters a great deal to me, may not matter much to you at all, and vice versa.   Unless you understand where another person is truly coming from, it can be very difficult if not impossible to get to a win/win solution.

So how does one truly understand?  Covey describes the process of empathic listening as fundamental to cultivating this habit.  It is listening with the intention of truly trying to deeply understand why another person feels the way they do.  It is not trying to convince them they feel otherwise, or simply regurgitating their words back to them without giving thought to the deeper meaning they convey.

Covey uses a great story to illustrate this idea.  In short, what if you went to the eye doctor and instead of giving you an eye exam, he just handed you his glasses and said “eh, this should help a little.”  That would make no sense, and you would probably find a new eye doctor pretty quickly.  Habit 5 is about diagnosing the problem first, then prescribing a solution.

Ultimately, to effectively use Habit 5, a person must use empathic listening in their interactions with others.  Done well this process involves “rephrasing the content and reflecting the feeling” that someone else is conveying.  This may take several attempts to get correct, but it is essential in moving forward to properly diagnose a problem.   Sure this takes time, but by truly listening without placing judgement, you can build the trust necessary to move closer to a solution.

Once you have gained an understanding of another’s perspective, the second half of Habit 5, to be understood, comes into play.  This is accomplished through ethical thought, emotional intelligence, and logical reasoning.  Expressing your concerns in a way that is respectful of the other person, in line with your principles, attentive to your feelings, and rational with regard to meeting your needs.

So how does this apply to social media?

Pete Blackshaw has a great quote in his book A Satisfied Customer Tells Three Friends, An Angry Customer Tells 3,000 – “Listening Drives Credibility.”   The book is about the power of postivite customer relationships in an interconnected world.   It examines the empowered customer and the impact that upsetting just one person who chooses to use the social web to convey their problem can have on a business.

Social media makes it possible to listen to what people are saying.  You can listen to what they saying to you directly through comments and direct interactions.  You can listen to what they are saying to one another through social networks, forums, and rss feeds.  You can listen to thought leaders, customers, competitors, and citizens to determine what they need.   As Covey states “Satisfied needs do not motivate.”

By using social media to engage people in conversation, you can begin to develop better solutions to their problems.  You can address their true needs.  This might be happen by thoughtfully responding to a complaint on a blog post.  It could be done through a customer forum, through a Facebook group, or through a Twitter account.  Regardless, the first step is to truly listen.  To uncover deeper truth.  To seek this out with an open mind.  Social media enables you to do this on a broad scale, at little or no cost other than the time you invest in this activity.

Once you identify a need, be that an expressed complaint about your service or a wish for something new to solve a problem, you can use ethics, emotion, and logic to address this need.  It may be that you retain a customer with this approach.  It may be that you avoid a public relations nightmare by listening empathically.  You may even find that your next “big idea” is generated by simply listening to what people are saying online.   If you Seek First to Understand, and Then to be Understood, you can apply your time and activity in social media towards building trust, addressing needs, and creating solutions that can sustain your business into the future.