Author Stephen Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” To understand first, we must listen to what is being said. The problem is, I find it harder and harder to listen these days. I mean really listen. I try to blame it on things like, “I’m just too busy to sit still and listen,” or “with all the technology constantly buzzing or ringing with interruptions, how can anyone really listen anymore?” Maybe it’s old age (let’s instead say middle age) setting in.

But listening really is not that easy. People speak at a rate of 100 to 175 words per minute but our minds process about 600 to 800 words per minute. This means that only a small portion of our minds is being used while we listen. So, many of us tend to multitask or multithink while we are listening. This is what gets me in trouble. If I multitask while I’m trying to listen, it’s the listening that suffers. So how can we correct this?

What I’ve learned over the years is that listening takes discipline and focus. To improve our listening, we must have the discipline to focus on what is being said. We must have the discipline to stop other things we are doing and pay attention to the message. Stop typing the email as you listen; stop thinking about other issues as you listen; stop forming your response before the messenger completes her sentence. It takes discipline to stop these behaviors and to listen intently to the message.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood is an important lesson. When people feel understood, they are more motivated and productive. But the only way to understand is to listen. If you are having trouble with listening, work on your discipline and focus on the person who is speaking and what he is saying. Show your people you care by listening more intently. They will be motivated by the feeling of being really understood.

Thanks for reading,


4 thoughts on “Listening

  1. Jim–in my entire career, doing more listening than talking was my greatest challenge, but if you can listen along with asking good questions you will probably win the day


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