The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Part 2

Last week we highlighted some of the key teachings from the first half of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s landmark book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  As you may recall from last week, we explained that The Seven Habits are broken into two halves; one of Private Victory and the other focusing on Public Victory.  In this week’s communication, we will be covering the second portion – Public Victory. (In case you missed last week’s article, you can read it online by clicking here.)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Habits 4 – 6:  The Public Victory Habits

4. Go for the Win/Win – seek out the best solution for both parties.

5. Seek First to Understand, then to be understood – communicate effectively with all parties to clearly understand everyone’s uniquely desired outcome.

6. Synergy – seek out differences amongst people, don’t shy away from them.  Synergy suggests that one plus one equals ten.

Personally, I think Covey got them backwards.  Ok, maybe not backwards, but certainly out of order.  Here’s my question:  How do you “Go for the Win/Win” if you don’t first learn to understand what the other party’s objective is?  Either way, one thing is for certain – it’s impossible to go for a Win/Win if you don’t know what a Win means to you.  This, amongst many other reasons, is why Covey insists that his teachings offer far greater value if developed in order, with the first three, private victory habits before the public ones.  (So read the article on personal victories, already!)

The Big Idea

Learning to Listen

“Communication is the most important skill in life.  We spend most of our waking hours communicating.  But consider this:  You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak.  But what about listening?  What training or education do you have that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual’s own frame of reference?”

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, page 237-8

Brilliant insight.  Obvious, too.  (As so many brilliant insights are).  How much training have you had on how to listen effectively?  It’s easy to say “Oh, come on – I know how to listen!  I’ve been doing it all my life!”

True.  But, that doesn’t mean you’ve been doing it effectively.  It doesn’t mean you’ve been doing it correctly.

Insight #1

Listening with Purpose

“What’s your purpose for listening?  What do you hope to accomplish?  As Covey points out, ‘When another person speaks, we’re usually ‘listening’ at one of four levels.’”

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, page 240

The Four Levels are as follows:

Ignoring – Not paying attention at all

Pretending – “Uh huh.  Oh, yeah? Yup.”

Selective – The way you might listen to a child who speaks incessantly

Attentive Listening – Paying attention and focusing on the words that are being said.

But very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, Empathetic Listening.  In its essence, empathetic listening is the habit of “listening with the intent to understand”.  (Covey, pg. 240)  Unlike Attentive listening, which strictly focuses on the words, Empathetic listening also incorporates actively seeking out the emotion and motive behind the words.  And shouldn’t that be our goal in all communication; to truly see the world through the other person’s eyes?

It’s a commonly known and often verified fact that a small percentage of communication is the actual words.  (The exact figure seems to vary from 6–15%.)  The vast majority of communication is in tone and body language.  So “listen” with your whole body – watch for body language, listen for tone and speed.  Not to say that the words aren’t important; they are.  The words are the tools that have been chosen to best express that individuals thoughts and feelings.  Just keep in mind that words aren’t the whole story.

At the end of the day, people just really want to be heard.  The concept is explained in a practical sense in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; “disagree and commit” (Lencioni, pg. 95).  People don’t always need to be right.  What they need is to be heard.  Are you hearing them?

Insight #2

Music and Lyrics

If you read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll get a sense of reluctance on the part of Mr. Covey to share the information on how to listen effectively.  As he states countless times, the “skills will not be effective unless they come from a sincere desire to understand.” (page 252)

Nevertheless, we are including them here as the second insight from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  If you approach them from a sense of principle centered-ness, as discussed in the “Personal Victories” article, they can be extremely beneficial.

The skills, the tip of the iceberg of empathetic listening, involve four developmental stages.

1. Mimic content

2. Rephrase the content

3. Reflect feeling

4. Rephrase the content and reflect feeling.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, page 248

So often, we are tempted to map our own sets of values, experiences and beliefs over the language of another person.  We assume, based on the words coming out of their mouth that we know exactly what they are going through and how to solve it.  How many times have you heard yourself say “I know exactly how you feel” or “I went through a very similar experience,” and then proceeded to tell that person how they should respond or feel. The truth of the matter is we don’t know how they feel.  We haven’t had the same experiences, the same social conditioning that they have had.  The inherent joy and sorrow of humanity is that we truly are all unique.  At best, we can work to find the intended meaning behind someone’s words and, in doing so, help them feel that they are loved and respected.  Some people cringe at the mushy stuff, but I firmly believe that we all want to feel that we matter.

So the insight is this – “Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling”.  Instead of cramming your own autobiography into another person’s mouth, listen.  Listen to the words they’re using (the lyrics) and the emotion behind it. (the music). Then, give it back to them; without judgment or suggestion.  Here’s an example:

You: “How was today?”

Them: “Terrible.  Work was brutal.”


What goes in the blank naturally?  Try this, just once:  “You’re really frustrated about work.” (Work is the content; frustrated is the feeling.)  Try it once.  See what happens.  See if they don’t open up.  There’s some magical stuff at work here, promise.

The final habit in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is in a class of its own.  It doesn’t solely belong in Personal Victory or Public Victory, as its impact and requirement permeates all aspects of our character centred life.  Habit 7 is Sharpening the Saw.  Habit 7 is about regrowth and rejuvenation.  It’s about scheduling what matters, each and every day.  It’s about taking the time to tune and maintain your most important asset – you.  On that note, we’ll leave you with the following quote from Phillips Brooks:

“Someday, in the years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life.  But the real struggle, is here, now… Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer.  Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continued process.”

Phillips Brooks, as quoted in

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, page 297

Live fully.  Laugh fully.  Listen fully.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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