Seek to understand before you seek to be understood

My dad was a listener. While the rest of us charged around, from one adventure to the next, dad was always there, a calm, reassuring presence, listening and learning from all around him. He was a wonderful storyteller, but he also know that one learns far more from listening than talking.

It was dad that came to mind when I heard some excellent advice recently, which built on dad's tip to listen more than you talk: Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

We live in an increasingly polarised time, with social media echo chambers and divisive rhetoric making grown-up, useful conversations all the more difficult. But that also makes them more important than ever. We can all be guilty of this. But rather than having a fixed mindset and thinking we know all the answers already, we should hear out what others have to say.

I carry a notebook with me at all times, and try to ask as many questions as possible. One of the benefits of all the travel I do is meeting all sorts of different people, with varying viewpoints. They help me to understand different viewports from my own, and then effect and evolve my own positions. This in turn helps be better share my own views and hopefully be understood.

Richard Branson taking notes

Dr. Stephen Covey highlighted the principles of seek first to understand, then to be understood. As he wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely."

Some people love the sound of their own voice, and don't really listen when others speak. These people will remain set in their ways and won't ever grow. It is no surprise that the best entrepreneurs I know are great listeners. They have surrounded themselves with people smarter than themselves, and they are willing to listen to them, not dictate to them. It may sound corny, but by trying to understand others, we can better understand ourselves.


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