Tag Archive: story

Listening From a Learning Perspective

Can you hear me now?

I promised in my Seven Habits of Highly Effective People review that I would revisit the topic described in Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.  The advice in this chapter was the easiest for me to implement and make work for me so I want to share it with you!

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood comes in handy when having a conversation with another person.  It is placed in the “Winning Publicly” section of 7 Habits because the practice of it inherently includes other people.  The way most people go about a conversation is to start by sharing their perspective.  Running through your mind is “if I could only get them to see where I’m coming from, then they’d understand.”  What is ironic about this thought is that both people are thinking it.  Both people come to the conversation with the need to share their point of view, their side of the story.  With these two conflicting viewpoints, no wonder most conversations get no where!

To solve this clash of views, something has to give.  That is where seeking first to understand comes in.  This takes a lot of willpower!  You have to shut off your own inner voice and have a genuine curiosity about the other person’s point of view.  One of the best techniques I’ve found is to paraphrase what the person just said in the form of a question.  I might say, “So what you mean is…”  Almost every time I get it at least partially wrong!  My view is too limited to understand where the other person is coming from because we have different experience.  This paraphrased question gives the person time to reflect on what they actually mean, and clarify my understanding where I got it wrong.  What is amazing about this is that once you have clarified what the conversation is actually about, you can get accomplish something.

Imagine this conversation.  Your friend sits down at church and grumpily says, “I don’t really see the point of going to church anyway.”  This is a loaded statement, flags should go off!  You could jump in with 1,000 arguments about fellowship, great teaching, Biblical commands, etc… but instead you think it’s kind of odd that your friend, a regular church goer, has made this comment.  You ask a clarifying question, “So you think church is a waste of time?”  Your friend responds, “Not exactly, what I mean is…”  Well there goes the need for all of your 1,000 arguments!  The conversation isn’t really about church at all.  After a few more clarifying questions, it becomes apparent that what the conversation is about is that your friend’s car got hit in the parking lot on his way to church.  Who saw that one coming (M. Night Shyamalan is that you)?  I know that I would not be able to make the connection from “what’s the point of church” to “I’m frustrated about my car.”

The point of this story is that you cannot see another person’s perspective until you have curiosity to, and then take initiative to ask questions.  If you had jumped in with your 1,000 arguments you would have gotten no where, because no number of Biblical commands are going to pop the dent out of your friends car!  You have to be talking about what is actually on the person’s mind.

The second advantage of Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood is the then to be understood part.  Anyone will be more likely to listen once they have felt understood.  If they know that you have heard them ,because you paraphrased it back to them, they will be more open to listening to your side.  This allows the great two way street of communication to flow without a traffic jam!

After reading 7 Habits I picked up a book called Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen in the Harvard Business Review series.  They call Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, “Listening From a Learning Perspective.”  I was amazed at the similarities.  Both books talk about having curiosity, discovering the two sides of the story, paraphrasing back your understanding, and asking clarifying questions when confronted with a loaded statement.  Both touted the benefits of letting the other person know that they are understood first.  My advice is to read 7 Habits first, and if you’re interested in this principle, start with chapter 5.  Then go pick yourself up a copy of Difficult Conversations because it is equally loaded with great thoughts!

“People never change without first feeling understood.” ~ Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen (Difficult Conversations)

Have you tried this habit; did it work like magic for you like it did for me?  Share in the comments below!


Stories of Encouragement

Last semester Bethany and I joined a small group through our church on campus.  Through that small group we met an older couple named Barb and Dave.  They learned we lived in Peoria and asked us if we would be willing to take a package to one of their old friends, a retired missionary woman.  This past weekend I was able to complete the delivery.

Gertrude is almost 90  years old, but by the way she talks and walks you wouldn’t think she is over 40!  She spent 37 years in South Africa as a missionary and has even written a book titled Africa Treks: Stories of Victory from the African Bush.  The book contains encouraging stories of victories for the kingdom.  I went to deliver the package prepared to spend some time getting to know her, and I’m glad I did!  She first invited me to see the nursing home she lives in.  The first thing she showed me was a quote on the wall which read “Blessed is this place because it is called home.”  She read it to me with strong conviction and to her it meant that even though she was in a nursing home, she had God and other people; she was home.  What an encouragement that Gertrude could be home in a place where others are lost and that all she needs is to be with God.  She can be home anywhere on Earth.

Next, she showed me her room and we talked for a while.  She had so many stories to share!  She talked of her experiences in Africa.  She related her experiences as a  younger girl in Intervarsity at the University of Illinois.  She shared about her current prison ministries.  She told stories about various people around Illinois that she knew.  All of these stories shared a common theme – Christians succeeding in kingdom work.  In the middle of these stories she paused and taught me this lesson: it is so wonderful to hear stories about God’s work in this world, you need to share joy with other Christians and to rejoice together in what God has done.  Gertrude was leading by example in the joy department.  She is one of the happiest people I have ever met, especially for things concerning the Lord and His work.  I pray that I would have her joy in my walk.  I wonder what the church would be like if we could rejoice together in the work that God is doing more often.  If we could share in joy over those being saved and their progress around us.  Are people being saved around us?

I have been learning that everyone and every place has a story.  These stories are worth knowing!  I took the time to learn part of an old missionary woman’s story, and I was so encouraged and blessed by it!  When you meet someone new, ask them their story and be able to share your own.  What is the story of the town you live in or of your family?  Could you write it down?  If you are a leader, can you write your organization’s story. Where you have been will shape where you are going.  Take some time to “look down the mountain” alongside your followers.  Share your stories of encouragement more often.  We all love to get encouraging news from our friends about their current projects, dreams, and work.  So be sources of encouragement for one another.

Nothing To Say

There is a reason I’m a scientist, and not a writer.  There is a lot of writing in science, but the subject of that writing flows naturally out of your research.  There is no struggle to come up with a topic, and being engaging is certainly not a concern (as anyone who has ever read a scientific paper can attest to).  You just sit down and churn out a paper about whatever you’ve been working on for the last several months/years.  I knew the day would come when I would sit down to write my weekly post for The Reversal, but come up dry in my search for a topic.  I have a list of potential topics, articles, and such that is supposed to help me out in these times – but none of those are clicking for me right now.  So if it’s not a lack of topic choices, what is it? I think it is quite simply this: I feel that I have nothing original to contribute to discussions about Christianity and/or leadership.

I subscribe to probably 15 or so Christian blogs in Google Reader, most of them written by people who have written books, spoken to audiences of thousands, etc.  So it’s easy for me to think to myself, “What can I possibly have to say that they haven’t already said?  What do I have to offer?”  I don’t have an answer for this.  I do know that, despite my doubts and discouragement, that God is using me even when I don’t feel usable.

For instance, a year or so ago, I was reading through the comments on a blog when I came across a comment written by an atheist who clearly had recently experienced the hand of God in her life.  I replied to the comment, saying that I would pray for her and included my e-mail address with an invitation to ask me any questions she might have about Christ and/or Christianity.  I didn’t think much about it, until a day or so later when I found an e-mail in my inbox from this girl!  We exchanged probably nine or ten e-mails until she suddenly stopped responding to me; despite that, I knew that God was using me to plant a seed in her life.  It’s up to Him now; what I pray now, and what I prayed then, was that God would use that e-mail chain to draw her to Himself.  Who except God knows what impact my simple comment reply will have in the future?

I may not have many original thoughts to contribute to the blogosphere, but I do have the story of God’s hand in my life.  My hope and prayer is that someone could be encouraged by the little snippets of my life, and occasional useful thoughts, that I share on this blog.  God has given all followers of Christ a story in which He is the main character; it is our task to use it for His glory.