It’s not as if habits are something we celebrate all that often. Maybe we should. My tribute to Stephen Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People noted some of the wisdom he shared that changed my life.
Since then, I’ve been picking off a habit at a time, sharing why I believe they’re grounded in Biblical truth. I’ve also tossed in a few practical applications for what they’re worth starting here.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand… then to be understood.
The wisdom of Proverbs sounds like this:
Any story sounds true until someone sets the record straight. (Prov. 18:17 NLT)
It’s easy to miss the obvious. The first story we hear is always the one we tell ourselves. It’s not surprising that we’re quick to think the story in our heads sounds pretty accurate — until we take the time to listen to someone else. Often we find we weren’t exactly honest.
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19 ESV)
Because as followers of Christ we’re supposed to genuinely care about what others think.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:4 ESV)
The biblical assumption is that we will, of course, look out for those things we think are important without any prodding. Pretty safe bet. Remember that story we’re telling all ourselves inside our heads?
But wisdom comes to the one who listens to someone else’s story first:
Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance. (Prov. 1:5 ESV)
For some, apparently, seeking understanding may just be a lost cause:
But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man! (Job 11:12 ESV)
How does this habit impact family life?
Stephen Covey put it this way in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families:
When people know they will have their day in court, they can relax. They know that their time to be heard and understood will come.
I’ve recently begun re-emphasizing this habit in our family. In particular, I’ve gotten intentional about understanding my kids, one at a time. Like most parents, I don’t have a lot of time to spare in the day. I always plan to spend one-on-one time with my kids. But if I’m not careful, a few months will go by without it actually happening.
Instead, I thought I’d try scheduling daily meet-ups with my kids. Not on-line. In person.
After the other kids have turned in for the night, each child gets a turn to stay up an extra 15 minutes with Dad. If the weather’s nice, we’ll sit on the deck as the sun fades. And just talk. Well, I mostly try to just listen. And let them talk. About whatever. Sometimes I’ll guide the conversation through questions of my own. But mostly, I’m seeking to focus on understanding their story. If I do that well, there will be time — and a desire — to hear my story later.
First, I must genuinely build their trust to get permission to speak into their lives.
And therein lies the most critical component of Covey’s biblical habit — people will only share truthfully with you if they believe you can be trusted.
There’s no shortcut, but one way you can build trust is by listening — without judging or ridiculing. Ask questions of your kids to clarify what they share. Let them know you heard what they said.
Before you know it, you’ll find they will actually asking you what you think. How’s that for a change, parents?
With people, fast is slow and slow is fast. ~ Stephen Covey
Have you had someone practice this habit with you? How did it make you feel? What about when you felt no one understood? Share a memory or comment to help us all grow.