Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Stephen Covey
Most of us are ready to tell others what we think, but slow to find out what others think. Stephen Covey’s famous quote above (1989) attacks the human tendency to rush in, fix things up with advice. He suggests you diagnose before you prescribe. “What’s your opinion?” comes before “That’s mine.”
Finding out what others think before you tell them what you think is not common practice.That’s an attitude of independence, not an attitude of interdependence, which is mutual dependence. Interdependence is a belief, attitude, practice that is missing in America today. Certainty you don’t find it in government; and you don’t find it is public discourse. You may not even find it in your neighborhood.
The problem with the absence of interdependence today is that it makes my opinion and your opinion equally valid. Facts are hard to come by. You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Most people don’t listen with the intention to understand. They are deciding what they want to say in order to be understood. Because this seems to be a human tendency, it is hard to overcome, even hard to recognize. It is an example of “my side bias”: only my opinion counts. Although this is easy to see in politics, it is also common in everyday communication, and not easy to see in oneself, but easy to see in others.
Covey says that to listen with the intent to understand is empathic listening. Empathy is defined as: identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings and motives, Dictionary. Can you imagine what politics, public discourse and inter-personal communications would be like with empathy. What the world needs now is empathy.
In America today, the country is becoming more and more divided because of more and more opinions, that often appear to be dogmatic beliefs. They are not usually considered tentative or open to feedback from others. What would happen if empathy became the standard operating procedure in interpersonal relations? If this vision seems like an unrealistic fantasy, what does that say about humanity?
Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant? Henry David Thoreau