The fifth of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People urges us to seek first to understand. In this series of blog posts, we’re looking at simple actionable tips to improve our understanding of others in our business relationships. In the last post, we covered a simple question to keep in mind that will help you listen to and connect with others more deeply. Listening though, is only part of the equation. At some point in the conversation, it will be your turn to talk, and what then?
Let’s start by looking at what you should not do. There will be a natural instinct, once you’ve listened to the other person, to believe that you now fully understand them. That instinct will be accompanied by a temptation to offer your perspective, perhaps even criticism of what the other person has said. After all, you want to be understood too right? Resist this temptation! You still have more work to do on your mission to understand.
What you want to do is treat your initial understanding of the other person as a theory, nothing more. Now what you want to do is gather additional evidence relating to your theory. The source for that evidence? Why it’s none other than the person you’re looking to understand. How to gather that evidence? Just be curious and ask curious questions. When you ask someone curious questions about what they just talked about, you are actively demonstrating your intent to understand them. It’s one thing to tell someone, “hey, I want to understand you,” but if you take action that actually demonstrates that desire, you will automatically strengthen the connection between you and the other person.
The one thing you want to avoid in this process is being judgmental of your conversation partner. Judgment on your part will risk shutting down the entire conversation. The best way to avoid being judgmental is to set your intention to be curious. Being curious means you’re showing an interest, maybe even eagerness to learn. Judgment is about dictating something to someone, but if you’re curious you haven’t formed an opinion about something to dictate.
Now you might be thinking at this point, “what if I can’t think of the right question?” My first answer to that is to trust yourself. If you are sincerely trying to understand someone else from a curious point of view, your intention will shine through. Even if you ask a question that’s somehow confusing or awkward, your effort will buy some grace from the person you’re talking with. So, at some level, don’t worry too much about asking the right question, just ask about something they said that you want to know more about.
Of course, I’m not going to leave you just with that advice. I promised simple actionable tips about how to strengthen relationships and I aim to deliver. So here’s your tip for this post, and it’s an easy one, you just have to remember four magic words, “tell me more about …” Pick anything that stands out in your mind about what that person said to you and ask them to tell you more about that thing. That will keep the conversation flowing and as you learn more about what the person is thinking, more questions will come to mind. Now you’ll be gathering information to see if you want to adjust how you initially understood the other person and now it will finally be time for you to offer some thoughts.
Next post we’ll wrap up the “seek first to understand” series by talking about the kind of thoughts you want to offer to demonstrate your understanding and further cement the bond between you and your conversation partner.
The Conscious Business Lawyer
Glenn Meier, Esq.
Conscious Business Lawyer
"I'm at my best," Glenn notes, "when I’m helping my clients make their business relationships work better. Sometimes that means helping them build the relationship from scratch and sometimes it means helping them restore a damaged relationship. Regardless of the entry point, I work with people to strengthen those relationships and design legal agreements that support them."
Mr. Meier is a shareholder with the Las Vegas Law firm of Holley, Driggs, Walch Fine, Puzey, & Thompson. All engagements for services discussed on this site are contracted through the Holley Driggs firm.
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