At the heart of all successful relationships lies good communication based on mutual respect and understanding. While this is beautiful in theory, it can often be difficult in practice.
When we come up against opinions we don’t agree with, have misunderstandings or have difficult conversations, emotions can run high. While it can be a normal response to start asserting our views and force our opinion, it isn’t the most effective way forward. In order to create mutual understanding, find win-win solutions and resolve conflicts we need to communicate in a different, more effective way.
So hit play on the podcast, or keep reading below, to learn how to create a relationship based on harmony and mutual respect, through first seeking to understand.
The importance of seeking to understand
It was Stephen Covey who I first heard say, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” in his popular book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
The reason it’s such valuable advice is that it’s counter-intuitive and so most people don’t naturally do it. Seeking to understand first is harder than it sounds. Many of us listen with the intent of replying rather than trying to truly understand the other person. We often just want other people to see things from our point of view and we don’t really want to hear theirs.
We might be opposed to an opinion or idea being expressed at times, so we become defensive or cold towards them in our body language. We might even interrupt, get defensive, become disengaged, or become fidgety and distracted, maybe without even realising how that is coming across to the other person speaking. But we can be pretty sure that the other person has noticed that we’re not truly taking in what they are saying and how they are feeling.
So, they’re left feeling unheard or even belittled or uncared for. As though what they have to say matters less than what we want to say, or doesn’t matter at all.
When we don’t truly listen to understand it creates a defensive environment that is ripe for misunderstandings, distrust, and resentments.
Defusing tension with deep listening
If we can practice more mindful, non-judgemental and deep listening, it naturally defuses tension and creates more connection, harmony, and understanding. We can start with this simple practice of seeking to understand before being understood.
So, the next time a colleague is sharing an idea, or a friend or partner is sharing their view on things, see if you can really be present. Do your best to listen without judgement, and with openness and curiosity.
Give the person speaking an unhurried, relaxed space to express themselves fully. If anything is unclear, ask clarifying questions and see if you can leave a pause before you respond. Especially if you’re in a heated discussion of any kind or in situations where there are opposing views or needs. Seek to understand before being understood.
By taking the time to truly understand another person, we set up the conditions for mutual trust, care, and respect. And of course, we make it much more likely that when it’s our turn to speak we’ll be fully heard and understood as well.
Your mental strength practice this week
So that’s the invitation for practice for this week ahead, seeking to understand others before being understood. Try it out in your conversations with others and see what effects it has on your body, mind and in your life. I think that you will find this is one of those very simple practices that when actually applied can lead to significant changes in the quality of your relationships and quality of your life.
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