A Gift for the Season: Appreciative Understanding

A Gift for the Season: Appreciative Understanding


In his popular book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey wrote: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”  But what does that really mean and, more importantly, what gets in the way?  How do we get there?

To understand another we first need to be aware of ourselves, how we behave and how we react to the behaviors of others. We all “show up” in different ways, and another’s behavior can be much different than our own; this can challenge both the beliefs we have about ourselves and our safety in the world.

In order for us to hold onto our current beliefs we typically judge someone’s different behaviors as right or wrong; we’re right, you’re wrong, or the other way around.  We work hard at being understood first in order to make the world safe and prove the worth of ourselves and our ideas.  That’s one reason why ideas in meetings can be shot down so quickly; someone else’s idea can challenge your own worth.

For example, when the speeding car flies by you potentially endangering traffic, we can be quick to judge.  There is a reaction that says how we drive is different, safer, better, than the person in the other car.

As a result one thing comes true: if we do not understand another, it is nearly impossible to appreciate them, their talents, their capabilities and contributions.

We lose, they lose, your team loses.

And when we learn that the car was speeding to the hospital with a very sick child, we begin to shed light to a deeper understanding; heck, we might even want to lead the way!

The simple truth is that, until we take the time and make the effort to know, we don’t know.

Here are a couple of ideas that might stimulate a different result:

Awareness leads to a deeper understanding: Becoming aware of not only how we react to others, but also why, is an important step in creating an appreciative understanding of another.  Awareness can be habitual if we stay tuned to our bodies and how it reacts to any situation. The physical reaction will always tell us if we are judging a situation that puts our identity in jeopardy.

Appreciation leads to curiosity: What is it about the other person that we do not know?  Why are they motivated to behave in the ways they do? Asking questions is another habit that we can learn; by asking questions you put aside the challenge to your worth and show the other their value and equal worth.

What is it about the other person that you react to, yet do not know why?

What is their biggest challenge?

What do they yearn for most?

What do they need from us?

What do they have that can teach us something new and different from what we already know?

Making even the slightest shift in appreciative understanding could be the greatest gift you give yourself this season.


Steve Haber