Seek First To Understand

How can we be a blessing to our friends and family this holiday season or at any time? From Justin Epstein’s talk “Supporting Loved Ones”: Seek First To Understand

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How many of you have offered support to a loved one who didn’t seem receptive to it at all.  Aha, that doesn’t happen much, does it?  Well, you are going to like this then: The first way to support a loved one is to seek first to understand and then to be understood.

“Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  Some of your might recognize that as one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.   That one principle is one of the most important things I have learned in my life.  And it has been helpful in close relationships, with family, and in work.  In many areas, seek first to understand.

What do people usually do?  They seek to try to be understood.  Yes, they give advice.  Someone said one of the worst vices is advice.  Instead of really listening and understanding, people often times are thinking about what they are going to say.  They are analyzing, they are judging, what they are hearing.  That is not seeking first to understand.  They are planning their come-back.  How many are guilty of that in the world?  And we all are, at times, because it is not easy.

“Seek first to understand.”  What does that mean?  That means to put yourself in their shoes and to really listen to what they are saying and what they are feeling and to help them feel understood.  And then, if they want to know our opinion, they might ask.

Instead of listening to understand, people often times are projecting their own autobiography onto the other person.  “Well, this is what I did in that situation, and so, what I did will help you.  Let me tell you what I did and you can do it.”  The problem with that is that everybody is unique.  And what worked for us, might not work for them.  In fact, it might be terrible for them.    And besides, we may try to verbalize something that worked for us and maybe there was a lot more going on than we realized working for us.  Maybe it didn’t even work the way we thought it did.

“Seek first to understand.”  What are they trying to say?  That was one of the most important principles mentioned in the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

He said if nothing else from this whole book…if you just learn this one idea:  Put yourself in their shoes.  It will be worth the price of the book and more.

“Seek first to understand—really to feel. Why is that important; Because people need psychological air. People have burdens on their hearts.  They don’t want to hear what we have to say until they are free of the emotion that’s on their heart right now.  They can’t hear until they have psychological air, until they can let go of what’s on their chest and feel like they have been understood.  But the secret is they need to know that they’ve been understood.  You know, we say “Oh, I understood what you said.” Yes, but I need to know that you understood what I said. And that’s good listening, isn’t it?

If suddenly the air was drawn out of this room, would you be interested in what I am saying?  Not at all, right?  You would just want air.  Some people here are probably not interested anyway. (Laughter) You know, people need psychological air and you can do that by understanding.  And then they will go: “Wow.  I feel heard.  I feel understood. You get me…you get me…”