Listening - Source: Pexels

7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Habit Five

By Awah | Leadership | 26 Apr 2020

7 Habits Overview

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book written by Steven Covey that I have introduced in previous posts. Reading the earlier posts will help gain a better understanding of some of the terms used here.

The first three habits are about taking control of our own lives as part of our journey to become more effective. Covey calls them, "private victories" as they are inward-looking to ourselves. They help us move from being dependent to independent thinking people.

Habit 4 is a public victory that helps us move from being independent to interdependent. Habit 5 is also a public victory.

Prelude to Habit 5

To illustrate the essence of Habit 5, I am going to start with a short story.

"Why are you not studying?"

"I just had to speak to my friend Tom."

"You are always wasting your time with your friends. You don't take your study seriously."

"It was important Dad."

"When I was young it was different. We respected what we were told and didn't argue. What was so important?"

"Oh, you wouldn't understand."

"Just go to your room and study!"

Habit 5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

How often have you heard a parent say -

"When I was young…"

In life, we judge everything based on our own perceptions which are set by our own limited experiences. However, other people have different experiences and their perception of the same thing is different. Normally when we listen, do we really listen? Or do we just quickly make a judgement by what we think the situation is? We replay what we experience through our own perception without really listening to understand.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Habit 5 is one of the most important. To really be effective in life we need to work with others and a huge part of that is listening to others to understand their opinions.

Body Language

Furthermore, listening is not just about paying attention to what words have been said. Communication is also based on the tone of what is said and even more importantly, the body language. We get taught when we are young how to read and write. That is only part of communication - were you ever taught how to listen?

How to Listen

Most people listen only so that they can understand enough so that they can get their point across. They are not really listening to understand.

There are 5 levels of listening:

  • Ignoring
  • Pretending
  • Selective
  • Attentive
  • Empathetic

Be critical of yourself in the conversations you have at work or at home. At which level are you really listening?

"If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Dr. Stephen R. Covey


Without listening properly we make a judgement about what the person is saying based on our own experiences rather than fully understanding what they were actually trying to communicate. In the story at the beginning, the parent never understood why their child thought it was important to speak to their friend Tom - they had already made a judgement based on things that happened when they were young and had presumed that their child was just being disrespectful. What a wasted opportunity to really listen and understand.

Because we don't really listen, we respond in one of four ways:

  • Evaluating - We make a judgement and agree or disagree according to our experience
  • Probing - We ask questions based on our own perceptions
  • Advising - We give advice and counsel based on our own experiences
  • Interpreting - We analyse their behaviours based on our own experiences

There might be times when someone asks us to specifically draw on our experiences - that is different. However, in most cases be careful not to judge quickly but see if you can empathetically listen to their point of view to really understand what they are saying before trying to get your own point across.

Next Post

We will look at Habit 6. Please comment below as to what you think about Habit 5.


Note: Originally posted by me on Hive. Images sourced from Pexels.

How do you rate this article?




A blog about developing leadership skills.

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.