Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

A powerful gem: Seek to understand.

Years ago I was offered a complimentary seat (front row!) to attend a full-day seminar with featured speaker Stephen Covey, author of many well-known books and articles, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although Mr. Covey’s demeanor was quite calm, his dynamic approach to workplace performance held the attention of 800-plus people for eight hours. Impressive.

When I listen to a speaker or attend a seminar, I figure if I walk away with at least one gem that stays with me and benefits me and those I work with, I’ve made a good investment. I feel the same way when I’m the facilitator or speaker. If the participants of any program I’m offering walk away with just one or two key ideas or skills that stay with them and benefit them long-term, I’ve done a good job.

From Covey’s seminar the gem I walked away with was the idea of seeking to understand versus seeking to be understood. It’s such a simple concept yet it takes a fair amount of self-awareness and intent to practice it. When we’re addressing a concern and/or offering recommendation, it’s natural to focus on being understood. Yet, what hit me that day was the power behind entering a conversation with a genuine desire to find out where the other person is coming from first, by asking open-ended questions, being quiet, and listening before offering a perspective or guidance. Understanding the needs of others gives us a road map for our guidance or coaching, and/or our approach to proposing new ideas.

When I’m facilitating a workshop or seminar focused on communication, I include “seeking to understand” as one of the primary guidelines. At the end of the session and/or several weeks afterwards, I’ll reach out to participants to ask them to share their most significant learning(s) from the program. I’m finding it interesting and rewarding that so many people have shared “seeking to understand” as the gem that they’ve walked away with, or continue to benefit from.

Here are a few typical workplace circumstances where seeking to understand can make a significant and positive impact on outcomes:

– Ready to delegate more? Seek to understand how your employees feel about their workload and/or availability to take more on, and where their interests are.
– Want to provide professional development or coaching to your team? Seek to understand what each individual hopes to learn through a training or coaching opportunity.
– Want to offer performance feedback to an employee? First, seek to understand their perspective of their performance. Perhaps you can simply agree or add a few things to their feedback, versus telling them what they’re already aware of.

In the spirit of seeking to understand—Are there any areas or topics that you’re interested in reading more about here? I’m listening.


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