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Seek first to understand, then to be understood

In Dr. Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the seven habits is to seek first to understand, then to be understood.

According to Covey, seeking first to understand means listening genuinely and giving your undivided attention by being present in the moment. By doing so, the other person will be more compelled to reciprocate and open-minded to your influence. Consequentially, creating an atmosphere of positive problem solving and making you a more effective communicator.

The habit became popular when the book was first published in 1989, but even today, tech companies embrace the idea in their core values.

Mastering the art of listening seems simple enough, right? Maybe.

In bringing awareness to your listening skills, you may notice patterns that aren’t reflective of genuine listening.

Think about this scenario for a moment.

Has someone ever spoken to you and while they were speaking, you were already thinking about what you were going to say next?

If you said yes, you’re not alone.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey

Now what? You acknowledge that your listening skills could use some work.

Acknowledging there is room to improve is a step towards becoming a better listener.

If you’re ready to practice listening, here are a few ways you can get started in your next conversation:


  • Turn off anything (tv, music, phone, etc.) that is distracting.
  • Let go of your agenda.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Let the other person speak without interruption.
  • Ask questions.
  • Follow up on the answers you get.
  • Try to understand their intentions, feelings, wants, and needs.
  • Pay attention to the way you respond.


  • Be critical.
  • Be judgemental.
  • Be defensive.
  • Engage in put downs or superiority.
  • Give advice until you fully understand or it has been asked for.
  • Focus on anything other than what the other person is saying.

How would you like your communication to be different? If you want to have better conversations, become a better listener. Pay attention to your listening habits and be mindful of where you can be more effective. I don’t pretend to be good at it, I just never stop practicing.

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