There’s a simple principle that gets violated often nowadays. This principle is a critical one in our personal and professional lives. It’s one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’d call it empathy, but I’ll use Stephen R. Covey’s definition.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Covey divides the 7 habits into three groups, independence, interdependence, and continual improvement.
The Illusion of Absolute Independence
With the advances in the technology, we grew more and more independent. We think we don’t need people around us anymore.
The Internet provides us with more than enough entertainment. We don’t need to go to a store, everything is delivered to our homes.
As a result, we have the illusion that everything happens by itself and all we have to do is to pay the price. We forget the people who run this system because most of the system is automated.
With the advances in technology and automation, we became more and more independent. And that’s a good thing.
The High Tech Culture
The companies that provide us with the latest technology have a unique culture that emphasizes independence.
Engineers are encouraged to deliver a product that works. They aren’t encouraged to talk to their customers, build relationships with them, and make sure that they keep their customers satisfied.
As we excel in independence, we forget interdependence.
Communicating with others and building relationships with them are seen as a waste of time. This will be an even greater problem for the new generation.
The Generation of Loners
When I was a kid, I had at most one hour of TV time per day. I wasn’t limited by my parents. That was all there is for children on TV where I grew up.
In hindsight, I was lucky. I had to communicate with other children and grownups for entertainment. Otherwise, I’d be bored out of mind.
That’s not the case with the new generation. All they have to do is to get their hands on a gadget connected to the Internet, and they have an endless stream of entertainment. What a fantastic babysitter, isn’t it?
You’ll Need Others
If you think you’re completely independent, I have bad news for you. At a certain moment in your life, you or one of your loved ones will need medical attention. Then, you’ll understand that there are other humans, and you actually need them.
I really like how Stephen R. Covey calls this principle, seek first to understand, then to be understood. This definition is simple yet covers everything I wanted to explain in today’s post.
If I had to explain this principle in other words, I’d call it being sensitive to other people’s conditions and needs.
Real Life Examples
Let me go over a few examples that I come across frequently, and that explain how critical this skill is in your personal success.
Imagine a team of brilliant software developers. They spent all of their lives with computers and programming. They know the software technology inside out. However, the software developed by these geniuses is impossible to be used by the average person.
Their average customer uses a computer at most one hour a day. They don’t have that much experience with computers and software.
The software is developed for geniuses. These developers didn’t think that their software would be used by anyone less knowledgeable than them.
They didn’t seek to understand their typical customer. Neither did they try to be understood. Now, they have to deal with all the support calls they receive.
Business and Marketing
When we develop a product or offer a service, what we are doing is obvious to us. This isn’t the case for our prospects. Yet, most of us ignore that fact.
I came across so many online businesses where I had to search their website to find a blog post that explains what they are actually doing.
You can create the best online business out there, but if you can’t explain what you’re doing in three sentences, you won’t have any chance of surviving.
Communication in Private and Professional Life
Once in a while, I receive a collaboration request. I can understand that it’s an honest request, but I don’t get what is expected from me, and what I should expect from the counterparty.
The answers to these questions are obvious to the counterparty, but they aren’t included in the request.
Did you ever have a friend who told you “let’s meet sometime?” When you came back with a specific idea, they didn’t return your message. You know how annoying that is.
On the other hand, some people tell you the exact location where to meet, with as much detail as possible, like the date and time.
“Let’s go for a coffee in the coffee shop across the post office near our office at 4pm on Tuesday.” It’s impossible to misunderstand and waste time.
My Own Sins
Even though I’m writing a post about this principle, I won’t claim that I’m perfect at it. No one is, and no one can be, but we can improve ourselves by paying more attention.
One of my sins when it comes to this principle is that I provided way too many ideas and feedback to my colleagues.
As a result, they got overwhelmed and started to ignore my ideas and feedback over the years. Nowadays, I pay attention to keep my lips sealed and only speak up on issues that truly matter.
A Skill You Can Develop
The fifth habit is a skill you need to pay attention and practice to develop. Always ask yourself some questions about the counterparty.
- What do they know about what I’m offering to them?
- What is their background?
- What is their experience?
- Which skills do they have?
- Who are they?
That list is not even close to complete, but I hope you get the point.
In essence, you need to step into the shoes of someone and look at the world from their perspective.
That’s not easy, because you don’t know a lot about that person, but at least pay attention and ask questions instead of making assumptions.
One of the advantages of this habit is that you perceive clues from your environment faster. You use them as feedback, which is a growth opportunity.
Empathy is a huge topic, and this post is just a reminder for you to pay more attention to it.
If you want to dive deeper into it, I recommend the books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes. Both are included in my list of 12 life-changing personal development books.
With the advances in technology, we get more and more independent, and that’s a good thing. However, absolute independence doesn’t seem to be possible in the near future.
We will always need other people one way or another. Therefore, we need to pay attention to interdependence and improve our skills in this area as well.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.