So this book. This book has been recommended to me over and over again by professors, by the internet, by various other people in my life…. Because I’ve been in and out of airports so much, and therefore have had a lot of free time with limited options for how to fill it, I finally decided while I was on my first business trip in October to go ahead and buy the book. Despite extensive travel since then, it took me until my most recent business trip two weeks ago to actually finish it.
Now don’t get me wrong, this book is chalk full of excellent advice. And there were a lot of stories and examples that I found genuinely fascinating and really made me rethink my day-to-day interactions. But, despite interesting subject matter, it was not an easy read. The chapters were very long and although the content was valuable, I still felt it was a bit more verbose than needed. Regardless of my feelings, though, this book has been a best-seller for quite some time so obviously people like it and I’ve definitely been trying to work on incorporating some of the things it suggests.
There are seven habits, obviously, but I only want to talk about the fifth one here because it’s the one I’ve decided to work on first, and that’s “Seek to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” More or less self-explanatory, this habit is about truly, actively listening to someone until you can explain their position as well as or better than they can. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that habit (and most of them, actually) applies just as much, if not more, to my personal life as it does to work.
Which isn’t to say it isn’t relevant at work; it totally is. A lot of what I do is developing new processes and governance procedures, which means I frequently work in teams made up of people from a variety of other teams and job functions. And bringing people together like that to get things done, when each one has the process in mind in terms of only their own function, typically involves a fair amount of conflict and disagreement. Even if I’m not directly involved in the conflict, learning the skill can help me to help those who are involved. But I run into way more conflict at home than I do in the office.
So anyway, as of late, I’ve been doing my best to remember to listen to understand, not just listen to formulate a response. It’s definitely harder than it sounds, because there are a lot of situations where it either doesn’t feel applicable or where I feel like no matter how many clarifying questions I ask I still don’t understand, but this is one of those things that I imagine will get better with practice. And just in case, I’m also now reading another one of his books! (The 3rd Alternative, which expands on the fourth, fifth, and sixth habits: Think Win-Win; Seek to Understand, Then to Be Understood; and Synergize, respectively) And that one’s much easier to read. 🙂