This is the sixth in a series of articles providing a chapter-by-chapter in-depth “book club” reading of Mr. Stephen Covey’s classic “the 7th habits of highly effective people”.
I’m reading from the 2004 Free Press paperback edition. This entry covers the fourth habit.
The 5th habit (Seek first to understand then to be understood) is around the concept of empathic communication which is – according to Covey – a powerful deposit in the emotional account of everyone because it gives a person psychological air . It’s the unsatisfied need that motivates: the greatest need of a human being is to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.
We tend to respond to a request or communication in one of 4 ways:
- we probe (we ask questions from our reference frame)
- we advice (based on our own experience)
- we interpret (we try to figure out based on our behaviour)
- we evaluate (we agree or we disagree)
While an empathic listening is based on these four levels:
- mimic content (you listen to what has being said and you repeat it)
- rephrase the content (put the meaning in your own words; think about what has been said)
- reflect feelings (think about what the other person is feeling)
- now combined: rephrase the content and reflect the feeling, understand both sides of the communication.
This habit is powerful because it is right in the middle of your Circle of Influence. Seeking to understand is something inside your circle of influence, of course, and as you do it you really listen and you become influenceable. And being influenceable is the key to influence others. Your circle begins to expand.
Finally, Covey points to the three classic principles of the greek philosophy, which contain the essence of seeking first to understand:
- Ethos: your personal credibility, the faith people have in your integrity and competence.
- Pathos: the empathic side, the feeling
- Logos: the logic, the reasoning part of the presentation.
Habit 6 (creation: synergize) is the last habit of the public victory section and is about creating a synergy activity.
In communication, for example, it means to open your mind to new possibilities, alternatives, options and not staying into the defensive.
The last habit (sharpen the saw) is taking time to renew your previous six habits and has 4 dimensions:
- Physical: involves caring for our body as exercising, eating correctly, stress management. A good exercise program is one that builds your body around endurance (with aerobic activities as running, biking, swimming, cross-skiing), flexibility (from activities as stretching, yoga, tai chi) and strength (from weight and muscle resistance exercises).
- Spiritual: involves the sources which inspire you. Spiritual activities are meditation, studying and value clarification and commitment. It’s from the spiritual dimension that the personal mission statement is coming.
- Mental: involves our development, from activities as reading, writing, planning, visualizing.
Continuing education and expanding the mind is vital mental renewal.
- Social/emotional: while the 3 previous dimension are closely related to the first 3 habits (personal vision, leadership and management) this one is centered around the last 3 habits (interpersonal leadership, empathic communication and creative cooperation). Activities are service, integrity, intrinsic security, empathy, synergy.
The four dimensions apply not only to individuals but to organizations as well:
- Physical = the economic terms.
- Mental = the recognition, development and use of talents.
- Social/emotional = the human relations, how people are treated.
- Spiritual = the meaning through purpose or contribution and through organizational integrity.
The book was published in 1989 and the world has profoundly changed since then. For this reason Covey wrote an updated version (The 8th Habit, adding a fulfillment habit: “find your voice and inspire others to find theirs”, for the Information age) but the basics are still valid: principles are natural laws that are external to us and values are internal and subjective; the book is still the best one to describe a principle-centered approach for living with integrity and trustness and a pathway through seven habits to reach it (make and keep a promise: 1. you can have a value system, 2. what those values are, 3. live by them, involve others and work out the solution: 4. respect others, 5. understand others, 6. create solutions with others and finally 7. optimize).