One of the goals that I set to myself recently is to read one book a month. However, this one book has been taking me almost three months to finish, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. This is due to the significant amount of valuable information found in there. Every word is a life lesson in itself. And because I want to fathom all the techniques, knowledge, and priceless life strategies in this book, I tended to take it super slow and make sure I get the best out of it.
In short, the book is talking about these seven habits that if one follows and implements, he/she will lead an effective, productive, successful, and accomplished life. Chapter five is talking about the 5th habit, which is: “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It mainly focuses on the skill of listening to others. This chapter suggests that there are five levels of listening. The first level is: “ignoring to listen.” It’s when you completely ignore what the other person is saying. The second level is: “pretend to listen.” It’s when you pretend to listen, but you are not listening at all. The third level is: “selective listening.” It’s when you select what to pay attention to and what to ignore. The fourth level is: “attentive listening.” It’s when you listen and focus on what’s being said. The fifth level is: “empathic listening,” aka the highest level of listening. It’s when you listen with the intention to understand the other person.
This chapter, out of the seven chapters, stood out to me the most, and I had an instant flashback of the many incidents I encountered when I wasn’t listening, when I was pretending, and when I was a selective listener. However, I tried to be proactive since I am now aware of the five different levels of listening and decided to implement this habit practically in my life. And what a more perfect “other” to practice this 5th level of listening with other than my dear husband.
The other day, my husband looked a bit down. He was less talkative and seemed occupied by some thought that kept messing with him. I could sense it; he was not himself. I waited for him to come and talk to me, but he didn’t. I had to pull the trigger. I approached him nicely and asked what was going on. At first, he said everything was OK, and nothing was wrong. I insisted that there was something, that I was unaware of, bothering him for sure. He kind of figured he couldn’t avoid me nagging any further and decided to tell me. He didn’t say much, though. He was cautious about being attacked by me. Being aware of how judgmental I tend to be sometimes, instead of judging him as usual, I reminded myself of chapter five’s fundamental concept: “seek to understand first, and then to be understood.” Instead of evaluating, analyzing, or judging the few words he shared with me, I started asking questions in an attempt to understand his point of view genuinely. The more I asked questions and showed interest to understand, the more he opened up and shared more with me. And sure enough, I was able to get out all that was bothering him that day. Not only that, but also his mood changed significantly, and he didn’t seem burdened anymore. He even thanked me for listening and not judging his thoughts nor feelings about what he shared.
I won’t lie to you; it was super difficult for me to listen to him without jumping into evaluating, judging, offering solutions, or even advising. It was quite suppressing to only listen with the intent of understanding. However, the fruits of this listening act are just amazing. My husband was aware of the terrific effort I put in. He appreciated me more, and he was able to open up and be himself without feeling guilty of upsetting me. He felt safe sharing what has been on his heart. And he got to realize that my motive was to really understand him.
Honestly, what a game-changer! How many marriages can be saved that way? How many arguments and fights can be avoided? How many relationships can be restored and flourished? If we can only try to listen to one another for the sake of understanding without jumping into conclusions or turning into attack mode, life would have been much more enjoyable. We live in a world where almost everyone seems to be super busy and freeing time from our busy schedules to genuinely listen to others and understand them seems almost impossible. However, the outcome of empathic listening is priceless. Try to practice this 5th level of listening with someone and enjoy a new whole dimension of this relationship.