Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

The Habit of Mutual Benefit


Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood involves a deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Instead, most people listen to the reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.

Empathic listening is listening with the intent to understand. Empathic listening is powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. It takes time, but nowhere near the time that it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you’re already miles down the road.

“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

As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception. You will also begin to appreciate the impact these differences can have as people try to work together in interdependent situations.

Knowing how to be understood is the second half of Habit 5 and equally critical to reaching Win/Win solutions. Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage. Win/Win solutions require a high degree of both.

There are three words that contain the essence of seeking first to understand:

  • Ethos – Your personal credibility, the trust you inspire.
  • Pathos – Your empathetic side, showing you are in alignment with the emotional thrust of another person’s communication.
  • Logos – The reasoning part of the presentation.

Habit 5 is powerful because it is right in the middle of your Circle of Influence, meaning it is something you can always do because it is within your control. As you do it, your Circle of Influence begins to expand. Habit 5 is something you can practice right now.