“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Most people recognize this as the 5th Habit of Stephan Covey in his infamous book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

This habit is the most difficult for me and I would guess for most others too. How often we rush into sharing our thoughts just to get them out there: to impress, to meet our agenda or to challenge. I’m guessing this is a bit more perplexing for those of us with extroverted personalities, or the ones who like to “think out loud.”

What do we miss in this process when we don’t try to understand our audience first? Do we share something that has no value? Do we miss an opportunity to really connect and further a relationship with someone? Or do we just waste our time?

Understanding takes strategy – “If you don’t know where you are going, how can you expect to get there?” – Basil S. Walsh. This seems so obvious, but most of our communication process is about the here and now. What if we took some time to really figure out the why and how of what we’re doing? Our team lays this out for our clients in a way that makes it easy. While digital marketing is often overwhelming for organizations, our process defines the where, the what, the who and the when because we spend so much time on the why and how. I love to work this way too. Taking a complex goal and breaking it down into steps makes it feasible. Then I just work the plan.

Understanding takes intelligence – and not just the purely cognitive kind. The emotional kind plays into this as well. Most people make purchasing decisions based on emotion – think about the last few purchases you made. Even the large ones that you spend much time researching, the final decision usually comes down to something related to an emotion – joy, sharing, ego, etc. Our team helps to understand why people do what they do, so we can then reach them in ways that help them take action online.

Understanding takes patience – our Mindscape team does this well too. We spend much time in our Mindshare process understanding (and more specifically researching) what our clients are online for their stakeholders. It’s tempting to minimize the time here, but reality is that the investment really pays off in the end – literally!

This concept/habit really makes sense, and I doubt that most people would argue that Covey’s 5th habit is a bad idea. Some might challenge the semantics, but we can all think of times understanding others first would have been helpful in interactions we had later on.

Just like you, however, I struggle with this. And while it’s easy to share how our team approaches this idea within our work, at the personal level it’s more difficult.

Try putting it into action:

1. You have a difficult conversation approaching – plan it out. Don’t just “wing” it, take the time to think through the other person’s perspective. We often use this skill well when we negotiate for something. Apply it to other interactions.

2. You’re reaching out to someone new – a prospective client; someone you would like to have a personal relationship with; a person you’re interviewing. Again, take the time to learn more about this person so that you can find ways to really meet their needs, not just your agenda.

3. You’re changing – and it will impact those around you. Hopefully you spend much time reflecting on your own life and where it is headed. Don’t forget about those around you and how changes in your approach impact them.

Once you’ve figured out who you’re talking to and what they seek, the second half…then to be understood flows much more naturally.