The Hardest Habit

Recently listened to a podcast interview with Stephen M.R. Covey during my daily morning walk.  If that name sounds familiar it’s because he is the eldest son of Stephen Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People, one of the most influential books of the 20th Century.


What was it like to be the child of a business and productivity guru? Mr. Covey recounted the creative ways his father instilled the principles of effectiveness. On one occasion they visited the site of a future high rise observing a large pit, in which the all-important foundation was being formed- Habit #2 ‘begin with the end in mind’. The architect proclaimed, “I’ve already mentally built this building several times”.


Of the seven famed habits which one is the most difficult?  Is it being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, or thinking of a win-win solution?  Covey found several surveys of students who completed the Covey course consistently found the fifth habit- to ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’ as the most difficult. The foundation confirms this is consistently the least-used and most difficult of the seven principles to put into daily practice.


What prevents us from understanding others? One is our natural instinct is our desire to share our perspective, story, or idea to ensure that we’re understood. However, as Covey points out in the interview- your effectiveness will suffer because the ‘psychological air’ in the room is being consumed by the other party’s need to be understood. That need if unmet will eclipse anything you want to share or discuss. To be receptive both parties must feel understood.


When it comes to listening, especially as salespeople, we often listen in preparation to formulate our own response. Even after the other party shares their feelings and viewpoints to which you attentively listened avoid jumping immediately into your presentation or you’ve lost. Instead, the best approach is first to paraphrase back what it is you thought they told you.


Here’s one example: “So Robert, let me take a moment to make sure I’m understanding what you just told me. Your concern is not so much about having enough cash saved for a rainy day, but the fear that if that money runs out Faye may not have the means to maintain her standard of living or keep and maintain this house. Is that an accurate summary?”


It is only through understanding that one can see possibilities and potential solutions a reverse mortgage could provide. After all, if the homeowner is convinced that you truly understand and care about their unique situation your recommendations are then increasingly seen as valid. Understanding is required before you can effectively influence others. As the younger Covey observed in his interview understanding must be met for both parties, otherwise, you’re competing for it like oxygen in a room above all else.


So the next time you converse with your spouse, a work colleague, and especially a potential borrower, sharpen your skill of ‘empathetic listening’. Listen not to reply but listen to understand. Keep repeating this 5th habit and you’ll find your mate is happier, your friends want to get together more often, and as a bonus, your closing ratios will improve


Thomas Caruthers October 24, 2023 at 6:55 am

I am very fortunate to be a student of the 7-Habits. It’s not a book that one reads then puts back on the shelf. It’s more like a bible one references weekly; sometimes daily.

Habit #5 is natural for a formally trained/accomplished sales person who understands that “sales”, in its purest form, is nothing more than “satisfying a need”. One can’t “satisfy a need” without knowing what that need is. The only way to do that is to ask, then listen. From there, it’s all downhill. Either I can satisfy this need or I can’t, plain and simple.

I believe there is a void in the residential real estate industry. Agents and loan originators are required to study rules and regulations to get a license. But, they aren’t required to learn the fundamentals of sales. Without formal sales training, few survive.

My 2-cents…

Shannon Hicks October 24, 2023 at 7:15 am

Well said, Thomas. Excellent points.


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