Are you effective? Seek first to understand...

If you haven’t already, I suggest you read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. If you don’t have time to read the book, buy it on tape and listen to it on your commute. If you’ve already read it, it’s worth picking up again and revisiting.

The reason that I suggest you read this book is because its principles have had a profound effect on my life, my relationships and my career. By continually focusing on developing these habits, I have over time become a better sales person, a better manager, and a better person overall. And I will continue to focus on them because I still have a long way to go!

The following are the Seven Habits:

1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
4. Think Win/Win
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the Saw

I’d like for you to focus for a moment on Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. This is a powerful principle and one that has changed my life.

Throughout my life I have had a talent for making an argument (I probably should have been a lawyer). I can make my point and debate my point until I wear down the person and they finally give in and concede victory. I can tell you from experience that this is not the best way to win friends and influence people.

When I read “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” twelve years ago, a light-bulb went on over my head. I was going to get no where fast if I continued to be the jerk that is always right and never listens.

I realized that for me to be effective with anyone, I needed to understand where they were coming from. I needed to listen with the intent of understanding their point of view, empathize with them, and then thoughtfully respond. My hope is that the same light bulb will go on over your head today.

Listening is the most important form of communication. Unfortunately, very little time is devoted to learning how to truly listen. We typically do not listen with the intent to understand; we listen with the intent to reply. We want to get our point across and we want them to understand us. Not effective.

Listening to understand is crucial to effective teamwork; members of your team must feel they are understood by you. As we learn to listen deeply to others, we discover differences in ideas and perceptions. These differences make teams work most effectively.

Listening to understand is also crucial in the sales process. It is the fundamental building block of a consultative approach. To succeed in sales, you have to diagnose before you prescribe. The amateur salesperson sells their product/service, the professional (successful) salesperson sells solutions to needs and problems.

Think about your listening skills. Do you truly listen or are you just pretending to listen? Are you giving your complete attention? Are you listening to really understand? Are you asking open-ended questions or just telling them about you and your company?

Examine your listening style; how effective is it at work or at home? What can you do to improve? First step: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Try it with your coworker…with your boss…with your staff. Try it on your next sales presentation…your next candidate interview. Try it with your significant other…with your kids. You’ll be amazed at how effective you become.

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