Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

A week or so ago Scott Stratten (unmarketing) posted the following on Twitter:

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business”

BAM – How to sum up everything I think about business in one 140 char sentence – Thanks Scott 🙂

This was also timely as I’ve recently been reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (aff link) and one of the habits has really struck a cord with me – Habit 5. ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. I want to break down Stephen’s points and tell you why this is so important in business. In fact, it’s not important, it’s essential and when you understand this concept you’ll notice this trait in all the most successful people, even the hardest nosed business women and men.

Why should this be so important to you? Because most people do completely the opposite. Ask yourself now, honestly, what you do when talking to a colleague, or client, or someone at a networking event? Do you listen with the intent to reply or the intent to understand? Do you wait for others to finish speaking, just so you can get your point in, or do you listen to and try to understand the other person, from their point of view?

Most people live in their own world, they don’t want to understand other people’s world.

How does this relate back to Scott’s point at the beginning of this article? Well if relationships are the key then this skill is key to building them. If you barge in thinking you know best, without giving thought to the other person, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll need to brush up on your relationship building skills. Perhaps you should question this now?

Just remember as Covey says, that when you seek to understand other people first, you show them that you care. Everyone wants to be loved right? Everyone wants to be understood. If you don’t develop this skill guess what happens – the person you’re conversing with will always be thinking, ‘nothing else matters as this person talking to me doesn’t understand me’ – they will never take your point on board.

I’ll leave you with one more thought from the same chapter in Covey’s book. The key to influence is to be influenced by others (i.e. being open to others influencing you) – for some people I’d expect this to be difficult concept to deal with. The truth is that you need to be totally comfortable with yourself in order to adopt and hone this skill.

Carl Rogers a famous psychologist said this:
“Lay aside your own views to enter another’s world without prejudice – this is only possible by people who are  so secure in themselves that they will not get lost in the other persons world”

Remember that understanding someone else doesn’t mean you agree with them but that you accept they are people of worth, you value them or you wouldn’t have spent time listening to them. You accept that they see their world differently and that their world has legitimacy. You’re saying; I accept you, I understand you – you matter to me

If relationship building is important to you and your business how do you take to this concept? Do you evaluate things from the other person’s context or do you always look from your own frame of reference? Something perhaps to ponder on over the coming festive season. Oh and go and buy 7 Habit’s (aff link) – It’s really changed my life this year.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Is this skill of listening with the intent to understand something you do yourself? Does it work for you if so?
  • Can you think of times where people have not listened to you – just talked at you or even worse, pretended to listen only to steam roller in afterwards – how did that make you feel?


  1. Dan Cave on 10th December 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Im not sure how else you can understand someones business and personal life (becuase they both matter a lot) without asking lots of questions and listening to the all answers fully.

    Not listening is a classic trait of a poor sales person, and even poorer customer service person. My exmaple: Bank phone customer services.

    • Banksy on 11th December 2010 at 1:08 pm

      Totally agree Dan – The point of the article and the book is that there are two kinds of listening and while most people can pull off one, they struggle with the other – listening with the intent to actually understand that other person. They are simply listening so as not to be rude, ready to get their point across afterwards. When I read the book it made perfect sense to me and I can see it everywhere now – I just have to be careful not to fall into the trap of it too 🙂

      Thanks for commenting mate

Leave a Comment