The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Redux: Habit 5 – Seek first to understand then to be understood

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Redux: Habit 5 – Seek first to understand then to be understood


Many people have had training in how to communicate effectively, but very few of us have had training in how to listen effectively.

This Habit covers how we should interact with others: Both what we need to do in order to communicate effectively with others, and what we should expect from those we are communicating with.

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This post is part of my “7 Habits Redux Series” in which I take another look at the “7 Habits of Highly Effective people” 6 years after my first reading of it. All posts in the series are listed here, and you can read my 2008 take on the 7 habits here.

The key to successful communication is understanding the person you’re talking to. We need to understand not only what they want but also their motivations behind this desire too.

Many people have had training in how to communicate effectively, but very few of us have had training in how to listen effectively. Additionally, when we’re communicating with someone, it needs to be done honestly and openly. If I sense you’re trying to manipulate me using a technique you’ve picked up from somewhere I won’t communicate effectively with you.


This method of understanding the other party first is a big shift in the way we interact with others. Usually we try to be understood ourselves, putting our needs over those of others. Quite often when we are listening, we’re merely hearing what the other person is saying rather than fully understanding the meaning behind their words.

If someone opens up to you it’s all too easy to nod sagely and say “Oh, yeah, that happened to me” and using your frame of reference rather than asking how it makes the person feel or what they intend to do. Just because we’ve been in a similar situation doesn’t mean that we fully understand how the other person feels as we’re not in their shoes.

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There are 5 types of listening we employ when having conversations with others:

  • Ignoring – Not listening at all
  • Pretending – Half listening
  • Selective – Only hearing what we want to hear
  • Attentive – Paying attention to what’s being said but not necessarily understanding
  • Empathic – Understanding the motivation and needs behind what’s being said

It’s only when we use empathic listening that we can understand where the other person is coming from and what their frame of reference is. Understanding this enables us to move towards a Win/Win scenario as desired in Habit 4.

Empathic listening also helps to make deposits in our Emotional Bank Accounts with the person, therefore making us more credible and someone they can turn to.

Along with the 5 types of listening, there are 4 ways we respond to what we hear:

  • Evaluate – Whether we agree or disagree with the person
  • Probe – Asking questions based on our personal experience
  • Advise – Offer advice based on our experience
  • Interpret – Figure people out based on our own motivations

If we respond in one of these ways we’re not truly listening. All of these responses are based on our own frame of reference and don’t take the other person’s point of view into account at all, we are transposing our own thoughts and feelings on to others. If we truly want to listen empathically we need to do the following:

  • Mimic the content of their speech
  • Rephrase what they have said
  • Reflect their feelings verbally
  • Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling

By Rephrasing and reflecting we’re showing the person that we have heard what the person has said and we understand the meaning and sentiment behind it. Rephrasing and reflecting also gives the person we are conversing with a chance to reflect themselves on what they’ve said “Is that what I truly mean? Am I successfully getting my point across?”

Once we have understood what the person means, wants and needs thanks to empathic listening and rephrasing and reflecting, we can then seek to be understood ourselves.

In order to be understood we need to have personal integrity, understand the other person’s point of view and take a logical approach in presenting our point of view. Showing that you understand what the other person’s needs are and that your needs fit in with those of the people involved increases your credibility and the credibility of your ideas.

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Listening, understanding and being understood increases our circle of influence. This further increases our ability to compromise and influence others.

Whilst empathic listening takes patience and time, it is worth the rewards that you gain at the end of it. We may think that the quick and easy route of selective and attentive listening is better as it takes less time and energy but ultimately it takes more as we have to go back and fix misunderstandings that have occurred by not listening properly.

Habit 5 builds further on the first 4 habits we’ve learned. Using our proactivity, understanding what we want, how to achieve it and wanting a win/win outcome helps with understanding and being understood benefitting all parties involved.

About The Author
Katy is always trying to be more productive one day at a time! Whether it's analogue, digital, motivational or psychological who'll try any system that will help her get things done and get organised. As well as running, she also loves making music and reviewing things.
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