Dissecting The 7 Habits by Stephen R. Covey: Habit #5 ‘Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood’

3 min


In the second part of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the value of interdependence.Interdependence (working with others, relying on each other…etc) is not the same as dependence (needing others). Relying on other people is not a bad thing, but it’s when someone only depends on others and not themselves that it becomes a problem.

All social beings have a natural disdain for members of their society that exploit the group or that take and provide nothing. For this reason, complete independence without consideration for others is not considered a good human quality (or a good ‘social being’ quality).

Habits 4, 5 and 6 talk about interdependence, which can be seen as the combination of dependence and independence.

Make sure to check out Habit#4, if you haven’t already!

The Importance of Listening

Most people communicate this way: they say what’s on their mind, and when the other person starts speaking, they’re already thinking of what to say next. This is pretty standard and it’s confusing as to why that is, considering we’re social beings and that we evolved so that we can effectively communicate with each other.

And yet that rarely happens, unless our life depends on it. We always want to be understood, and if we think we’re being misinterpreted, we insist on saying something differently by rewording it or saying it louder in order to make sure that we get our point across and guarantee that we’re understood.

Yet more often than not we still feel misunderstood. Maybe it’s not them, the people who “don’t listen to what we’re saying,” but us who don’t want to listen, but instead want to be listened to. Stephen Covey said this:

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”


According to Stephen Covey, we’re putting the cart before the horse. We should first try to understand the other person, and then try to make ourselves understood. If 2 people communicated this way from the beginning, both would be coming from a place of wanting to understand each other, thus leaving room for the understanding to take place on both sides.

This is why listening must come before speaking, it opens the door to understanding so that when we speak, our intentions are reciprocated.

©Franklin Covey

The 5th Habit In Greek Philosophy

In Greek philosophy, “Seek first to understand, than to be understood” is represented by 3 words: Ethos (personal credibility), Pathos (empathetic side) & Logos (logic).

In other words, your character, how you empathize and relate and the reasoning you present.

What If The Other Person Is Unreasonable?

This is where empathy kicks in. It’s funny how “talking about your feelings” is considered a feminine quality instead of a “human quality.” It is necessary, otherwise there is no other way to really understand someone else. Empathy is a magic-like ability we possess that we just brush off as a primitive or weak trait. Only Sociopaths and Psychopaths think that way, and that’s because they lack empathy! They don’t know what it is and how useful it can be.

Essentially, you feel what someone else feels, as much as you possibly can. What better way is there to really see where someone is coming from than to feel what they feel? When you feel what an “irrational” fanatic feminist feels when they say, for example, “all men are pigs,” is the feeling of being a woman who has been mistreated and betrayed by so many men that she had to create this belief in order to protect herself.

What could happen afterwards, let’s say, if you’re someone who knows that not all men are horrible and can prove it, is that you would think, “this feeling is horrible, but it isn’t necessary, if only she knew what I knew!” You realize that the feminist’s perspective is not completely false, as some men are cruel, but she’s also not completely right either, a piece of the puzzle is missing.

But forcing the knowledge out will do very little. The empathy road needs to be traversed first. There needs to be trust and understanding before anything you say has any validity. The other person needs to value your character before they can trust what you have to say, and you show that partly by listening carefully to what they have to say.

In Conclusion

Jordan B. Peterson advises people to act like everyone they meet has something to teach them that they don’t know yet. This perspective ensures that you give people credit and go against any biases you might have from first impressions. Even if you were wrong and they had nothing to teach you, at least you came from a place of understanding and gained their trust, giving your character more credibility, and ensuring that you are one step closer to being understood.

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