“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”
— St. Francis of Assisi
This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication. The book of Proverbs offered identical advice in 18:13 with “He who answers before listening—it is folly and shame to him” (NAS). Earlier in the same chapter Solomon offers a pointed evaluation of those who would rather talk than listen: “A fool does not delight in understanding but delights in revealing his own mind.”
No parent, spouse, employer, or anyone seeking to lead another—can lead well or for very long if they cannot communicate. The first skill of an effective communicator, however, is listening. Good leaders will seek first to understand before trying to be understood by practicing giving 100% attention, acknowledging what the other person is saying (which is not the same as agreement), and rephrasing what they have heard from the other person they are seeking to lead to ensure they understand that person’s point of view. This is a skill that many of us could stand to improve.
Closely tied to the skill of listening is the ability to express oneself in a nonabrasive and affirming manner. Solomon points out that “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue is only for a moment” (12:18). Wisdom is seen when one thinks before they speak; in so doing they select words that nurture rather than destroy. When faced with hostility, they speak gently so as to subdue anger rather than stoke it (15:1).
One’s communications skills will either create trust or distrust in the person you are seeking to lead. It will either instill confidence or resistance. Parent, friend, spouse, employer, how would those you are attempting to lead evaluate your listening skills? Does your temper or position cause you to give a quick response first and listen second? What change could you make today to strengthen your ability to listen?