Habit five, seek first to understand, then be understood

Habit five; seek first to understand, then be understood

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Habit Five: Seek first to understand, then be understood

In habit five “Seek first to understand, and then be understood”, Covey (2004) emphasizes listening in communication. The essence of communication in life is emphasized. Covey shows that for one to influence people well, and to interact with people in a productive way, there is need for one listen carefully and understand what one means, or what one wants. The chapter emphasizes that one needs to build the skills of listening empathetically.

Covey (2004) outlines four areas in which people listen. The first one is listening with an intention of ignoring what the other person wants to say. The other type of listeners, according to Covey (2004), are listeners who pretend to listen yet in the real sense they are not listening attentively. The third category is people who listen selectively. These are people who decide what they want to hear in a conversation. They only pay attention to some part of the conversation. A fourth category is people listen attentively. Covey (2004) sees that these are the people who understand what the other intended in the message. In regard to empathetic listening, only a small population of people engages in attentive listening.

In regard to seeking first to understand, Covey presents the principle of diagnosing before prescribing. He argues that in many areas of life, this has been the distinguishing principle of all true professionals. Covey outlines four ways in which people respond, which depends on how they listened. The first group of people evaluates a situation before they respond. The second group probes a situation before they respond. The third group advises after listening and the fourth group interprets a situation. Covey argues that people who listen attentively respond to the conversation through a language of logic, rather than a language of emotion and sentiment. People who respond logically are able to give counsel and even ask questions.

According to Covey, there are four developmental stages of empathic listening. The first one is mimicking the content. The second is rephrasing the content. The third is reflecting on the feeling. The fourth is connecting on the reflections that one has made while listening attentively. Through empathic listening, one is able to grab a transformational opportunity and transform the other person if there is need. In addition, the attentive listener is able to transform the welfare of the person they are listening.

Covey presents habit five as a first step to the win/win situation. This is because listening to other people builds one’s perception toward them. The foundation of listening attentively forms the basis of being understood. When one builds such a foundation, one is able to present own ideas clearly and in a logical manner. This helps improve that credibility of one’s ideas. It is thus evident that all listening has not been created equal. Also, it can be seen from this habit that many people may be having a solution to somebody’s problem, but they are not able to present it. Presenting a solution to someone needs humility in listening to them as they talk. It is, therefore, upon a listener to cultivate a culture of attentive listening in order to make the talk productive. Covey’s ideas are effective for people who apply them accordingly.


Cover, S. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. Florence, MA: Free Press.