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  • Writer's pictureHeidi

Seek first to understand, Then to be understood

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect and consider how you want to show up as a leader. How is it that you can best impact and influence change within your organisation? Very often, it is the little things we do that either help or hinder us in our efforts. Sometimes habits that are so deeply ingrained we are not even aware of them, or we may be unaware of the impact that the habit has on those around us.

Often when I coach leaders, one of the habits we come back to is how frequently we might be in "tell mode" rather than listening to others and asking them for their thoughts and views. Simply put, we like to be influenced by those we like. We are a whole lot less likely to be swayed by the views of someone we don't. Yet as leaders, we often fall into the trap of telling others (colleagues and employees alike) what to do or what we think, rather than engaging in genuine dialogue. This only serves to get in the way of establishing the trusted relationship we need to be able to influence others. It doesn't matter how politely we might say it, when our default mode is to always start with "what I think is ..." and we infrequently start with "what do you think ..."; the message we are sending is my opinion matters more, or even I'm right and you're wrong.

Frequently when I coach leaders, they recognise they fall into this trap when the outcome is particularly important to them or they have very strong views on the matter. The more we care, the more strongly we advocate our point of view; inadvertently undermining the very outcome we are striving to influence. When I reflect back on interactions of my own I have felt I could have handled better, it is certainly true for me too.

Research into the role of positivity and connectivity in performance shows that in high performing teams, members tend to enquire about the view of others as much as they advocate their own perspective (1). In Stephen Covey's words "Seek first to understand; then to be understood."

So, if it is important for you be able to influence your colleagues and employees, ask yourself this "How often am I in tell-mode, advocating my point of view vs. enquiring about the perspectives of others?" When you start to observe yourself in action, you might be surprised by what you see. Then ask yourself "Where would I like to be?".

(1). The role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model. Marcia Losada and Emily Heathy. American Behavioral Scientist 2004; 47; 740

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