Seek first to understand, then to be understood (quotes)

Listen to understand

  • Listen first to understand, then speak to be understood. Stephen Covey
  • Seek first to understand. Be more interested in understanding others and less in having other people understand you. Stephen Covey
  • In any conflict, we can defend ourselves or we can learn. Defense has made the world unliveable. What would happen if we chose to learn instead? Instead of saying, ‘You frighten me’, what if we said, ‘You interest me’?” Leslie Back
  • The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding. Leonardo da Vinci
  • Having someone who understands is a great blessing for ourselves. Being someone who understands is a great blessing to others. Janette Oke
  • Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand. Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Seek first to understand. Essentially this strategy implies that you become more interested in understanding others and less interested in having other people understand you. Richard Carlson
  • Three-fourths of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world would disappear if we step into the shoes of our adversaries and understand their standpoint. Gandhi
  • Instead of condemning people, try to understand them. Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain– and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. Lawrence G. Lovasik
  • …treat people with understanding when you can, and fake it when you can’t until you do understand. Kim Harrison
  • But then every man is ludicrous if you look at him from outside, without taking into account what’s going on in his heart and mind. Aldous Huxley
  • The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Ralph G. Nichols
  • Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved. Larry Barke
  • Before you contradict an old man, my fair friend, you should endeavor to understand him. George Santayana
  • A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with. Kenneth A. Wells
  • When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely — the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears- when you give your whole attention to it. Jiddu Krishnamurti
  • I don’t have to agree with everything you say, but I should attempt at least to understand it, for the opposite of mutual understanding is, quite simply, war. Ken Wilber
  • UnderstandingListeningCommunication
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Understanding is a precious and potent force

  • Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third. Marge Piercy
  • Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Marie Curie
  • Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Until we know what motivates the hearts and minds of men we can understand nothing outside ourselves, nor will we ever reach fulfillment as that greatest miracle of all, the human being. Marya Mannes
  • We shall light a candle of understanding in our hearts which shall not be put out. Jewish Proverb
  • The crown of life is neither happiness nor annihilation; it is understanding. Winifred Holtby
  • If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen. Loretta Girzartis
  • There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else. Brad Meltzer
  • I have wanted you to see out of my eyes so many times. Elizabeth Berg
  • The more deeply you understand other people, the more you will appreciate them, the more reverent you will feel about them. To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground. Stephen Covey
  • The most important thing is that we need to be understood. We need someone to be able to listen to us and to understand us. Then we will suffer less. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • In the end there doesn’t have to be anyone who understands you. There just has to be someone who wants to.  Robert Brault
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Listening to understand brings great rewards

  • In order to have influence with other people, they must first feel that you understand them. And once they feel understood, they are open to hearing your ideas, your counsel, and your point of view. Stephen Covey
  • When we listen with the intent to understand others, rather than with intent to reply, we begin true communication and relationship building. Opportunities to then speak openly and to be understood come much more naturally and easily.  Stephen Covey
  • The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them – when they feel understood by you – that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open. Stephen Covey
  • Seeking first to understand before being understood isn’t about who’s right or wrong; it is a philosophy of effective communication. When you practice this method, you’ll notice that the people you communicate with will feel listened to, heard, and understood. This will translate into better, more loving relationships. Richard Carlson
  • If you really seek to understand, without hypocrisy and without guile, there will be times when you will be literally stunned with the pure knowledge and understanding that will flow to you from another human being. Sephen R. Covey
  • Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love. John Steinbeck
  • I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. Orson Scott Card
  • Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek. The Dalai Lama
  • Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul. John O’Donohue
  • If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate. Elbert Hubbard
  • The best way I can get understanding from another person is to give this person the understanding, too. If I want them to hear my needs and feelings, I first need to empathize. Marshall Rosenberg
  • Listening is a very deep practice….You have to empty yourself. You have to leave space in order to listen….especially to people we think are our enemies – the ones we believe are making our situation worse. When you have shown your capacity for listening and understanding, the other person will begin to listen to you, and you have a change to tell him or her of your pain, and it’s your turn to be healed. This is the practice of peace. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • The secret of success is to understand the viewpoint of others. Henry Ford
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To listen to understand, suspend your frame of reference and refrain from agreeing or disagreeing and giving advice

  • You hear through your own autobiography — your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he or she finishes communicating. Stephen Covey
  • Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways: 1. Evaluate: You either agree or disagree. Probe: You ask questions from your own frame of reference    Advise: You give counsel and solutions to problems based on your own experiences. 3.  Interpret: You try to figure people out—explain their motives and behavior—based on your own motives and behavior.  Stephen Covey
  • When you use them at the right time with the right intent, they can be productive. But usually autobiographical responses force your opinion on others and sometimes you may be perceived as intrusive or unwilling to understand. Stephen Covey
  • Even if your intention is to help, giving advice or evaluating without being asked can backfire in the long run. Stephen Covey
  • The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another.  But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty,  to the ear, or to the mind.  Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties.  And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens.  There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.  Chuang-Tzu
  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there. Rumi
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To listen to understand, listen with empathy

  • Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives, and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication from another human soul. Stephen Covey
  • Empathic listening gets you inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way he or she sees it, and you understand how he or she feels. This does not necessarily mean you agree; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person emotionally as well as intellectually. You temporarily let go of your perspective to understand his or her perspective. Stephen Covey
  • Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgment. And it is sometimes the more appropriate emotion or response. But people often feed on sympathy. It makes them dependent. Stephen Covey
  • Seeking to understand takes consideration, seeking to be understood takes courage. Effectiveness lies in balancing or blending the two.  Stephen Covey
  • Empathy is the fastest form of human communication. Stephen Covey
  • Empathy lies in our ability to be present without opinion. Marshall Rosenberg
  • With empathy we don’t direct, we follow. Don’t just do something, be there. Marshall Rosenberg
  • Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being. Marshall Rosenberg
  • When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. Stephen Covey
  • When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. Henri J.M. Nouwen
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Empathetic listening is listening to not just words but feelings and body language too

  • Empathic listening is not about just listening with your ears. It’s about listening with your eyes and heart, too. Stephen Covey
  • When you and others speak, the meaning you communicate comes from three sources: the words you use, your body language, and how you say your words. Listening with your eyes means you pick up on nonverbal cues that another is communicating through his or her body language. Listening with your heart means you listen for feeling and meaning that is expressed through the tone and inflection of another’s voice. And listening with your ears is simply hearing the actual words that are being said. Stephen Covey
  • It’s important to remember that more than 90 percent of what people communicate does not come through words but through nonverbal communication, such as tone of voice and body language. This is where the paradigm shift usually occurs for people. Stephen Covey
  • So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it. Jiddu Krishnamurti
  • The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you, but in what he cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand him, listen not to what he says but rather what he does not say. Kahlil Gibran
  • One of the tasks of true friendship is to listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences. Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people. John O’Donohue
  • To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the ‘music,’ but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning. Peter Senge
  • If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them. John Napier
  • Body language
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Stephen Covey recommends three basic listening skills for listening empathetically

  • Rephrase content, where you put the meaning of what another person said into your own words.
  • Reflect feeling. When you reflect feeling, you are concentrating on the way the other person feels about what he or she is saying. This is where listening with the ears, eyes, and heart really comes into play.
  • Ask questions for better understanding. These are not probing questions, but questions that help clarify and reach mutual understanding.
  • What lies below the surface of these skills is a sincere, true desire to understand another human being. If empathic listening skills are not used with this intent, then they may be perceived as manipulative and become ineffective.
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Stephen Covey‘s ten steps to becoming an empathetic listener

  • “Take your time, I’m listening,” and really mean it.
  • Set aside your own agenda.
  • Be available and receptive emotionally as well as through body language.
  • Try to appreciate the other person’s point of view.
  • Listen without being in a hurry to take over.
  • Try to imagine yourself in the other’s place; feel what the speaker feels.
  • Help draw out thought and feeling by asking questions.
  • Have the speaker elaborate for further understanding.
  • Say, “Let me make sure I understand,” and then restate the issue.
  • Be sensitive to the speaker’s feelings.
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