Steven Coveys 5th habit is ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.
He says this because “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are or, as we are conditioned to see it.”
We all tend to make meanings of everything we experience as they relate to us. This is understandable, and very human. We have so much information to deal with all the time and this shortcut saves our sanity. It is especially important however, given that we have this tendency, for us as leaders to recognise that the meanings we make of what people say and how they say it, could be different from what they intended. This is because humans tend to make assumptions about what we hear, what we see and what we perceive to be true.
These assumptions can make it difficult to reach a shared understanding about anything, to solve problems, resolve conflict, build relationships and work as a team. I was chatting with two members of a highly functioning team recently and one their core communication strategies is to challenge their own assumptions. It’s a great strategy. One that is so simple and also incredibly difficult to consistently practice. It requires a high level of emotional intelligence and can be split into four parts:
To challenge assumptions we must notice that we are making them. We have to understand ourselves and acknowledge that we all make assumptions, often unconsciously for a lot of the time. We assume people’s intentions, meanings, motivations, thoughts and moods. It saves a lot of time. We couldn’t spend our lives clarifying everything otherwise!
But sometimes we must interrupt this pattern and this is where EI comes in. We have to build our noticing muscle around the assumptions that we make. If we think we have detected an assumption, then we must challenge it.
When you notice you may have made an assumption, ask yourself: “What am I assuming here?”, “How do I know I’m right?” “Where is the evidence for this assumption?” and “What other explanation could there be?”
This puts you in a good frame of mind to be curious and seek evidence for your assumptions
Clarify what you heard or saw to make sure you understand what the other person meant: “you said…did you mean… by that?” “I think I heard you say… is that right?”
Of course when we are having conversations like this we have to really listen to the other person, as opposed to thinking about what we want to say next (we all do it so we might as well admit it!). Rather, try to focus on what they are saying and be truly curious.
When you have sought to understand where someone is coming from, you will be able to respond in a more empathetic way. This will help you to create an environment that invites respect, collaboration and more authentic ‘real’ communication. It’s a win/win for everyone.
Photo: my dog Kim 🙂 Bubbles not real!
Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . 1989, NY: Free Press.
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Strengths Finder Assessment and Feedback
Doing Strengths Finder coaching has enabled me to see how I can make the most of my natural abilities. The test itself outlined 5 particular strengths but it was the coaching that meant I now know how to actually utilise this information. It is going to help me a great deal when it comes to my academic life and in particular how I can study in the most effective way. The coaching helps access the key to knowing your strengths and Deb has helped me devise a plan of how I can move forward with these skills. Her work with me has been vital to the Strengths Finder process and I would absolutely recommend the coaching as vital to finding your strengths.
Family Harmony Workshop for Parents
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Team Building Facilitation and Coaching
As a new Manager to a newly formed team of eight staff, I engaged Deb to facilitate our first team planning day. The objective of the day was to identify a shared vision and to start a process of strategic planning for the next three years. The day was a great success and set the team up with greater clarity of purpose and a framework for future planning.
Deb demonstrated a great understanding of the team, its context and challenges. This was due to her careful and thorough planning and reflections prior to the day. Deb managed the varying levels of engagement among the team exceptionally well; she did this with the establishment of clear ground rules and a sense of trust and respect. Deb listened actively and regularly questioned for greater clarity before reflecting on the team’s contributions.
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Angela Hehir, (Manager)
Business Leadership Coaching
Debra's help in getting me to focus on the strategic direction of my business and my work-life priorities has proven invaluable. She has the ability to ask simple questions to create greater clarity and focus in both work and personal goals. Debra is a great listener, follows up on her clients and creates a great support base for her clients through recommending network groups, courses and reading material. For those who want a leadership coach that goes that extra mile,
I highly recommend her.
Yvette Audet, Sport & Recreation Management Services
360 degree feedback and Mentoring
Debra provided feedback on my 360 leader/manger profile. I have taken this style of development tool on two prior occasions and found the feedback underwhelming. This time I found that Debra has an empathetic and approachable feedback style. Previously I have felt very much that I was being placed in a stereotypical box.
I liked Debra,s approach and understood more that the outcomes of the survey reflect a favored management leadership style and this could be flexible. Debra is able to draw out your thoughts on how you feel others perceive you rather than preaching which was a great attribute.
We talked about the outcomes and the way forward and I was left with a comfortable feeling that I could achieve my higher aims. Debra provided positive feedback and kept in contact after the initial interview. Her trouble in organizing some key topic papers and net links was commendable. I hope very much to take Debra up on some future mentoring and would highly recommend Debra’s leadership skill set to you.
Professor Tim Lyons, Newcastle
Concrete personal career goals
I have appreciated my coaching sessions this year more than I can say. Deb has challenged me at every turn which I have loved, making me work hard to find my own solutions during an extremely professionally challenging year. This has been extremely satisfying.
I also now have concrete personal career goals and a plan on how to get there – non existent when I started coaching and really not something I consciously thought I needed. As a consequence I feel more focused and motivated for the next year and beyond.
Finally I would have to say my coaching session with Deb have been an absolute lifeline for me this year, keeping me on track, helping me to grow and learn and ultimately make a monumental shift in my approach and style as a leader. I am very grateful for her time, patience, humor and professionalism – I am certainly am better leader thanks to coaching with Deb.
Bernadette Hollis, Sydney