Stephen Covey and listening habits of leaders - effective leaders learn to listen effectively according to Stephen Covey in seven habits
Stephen Covey and listening habits of leaders - effective leaders learn to listen effectively according to Stephen Covey in seven habits
Stephen Covey and listening habits of leaders - effective leaders learn to listen effectively according to Stephen Covey in seven habits

The Role of Listening in Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People


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This section examines a book by Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Fireside (Simon and Schuster), 1989, 2000), with commentary and analysis by Bruce Wilson.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey sets out a seven-part model for effective performance in business and personal life. To compress his entire framework into three paragraphs doesn't do it justice, but for the sake of economy we'll try anyway!

First, Covey recommends taking the time to listen to yourself (habits 1-3) in order to identify your own core values and goals. This step makes it possible for you to behave exactly as you believe the person you wish to be would behave, because it allows you to consult your own values and goals before acting. Thus you act only in ways that are consistent with those values and goals. This step should be repeated regularly as time passes and circumstances change.

Stephen Covey's seven habits are:

  • be proactive;
  • begin with the end in mind;
  • put first things first;
  • think win/win;
  • seek first to understand, then to be understood;
  • synergize;
  • sharpen the saw.

Second, Covey recommends listening to others (habits 4-6) in order to become aware of the values and goals of others. This enables you to find common ground and thus maintain productive relationships with them.

Third, (habit 7) Covey recommends regularly seeking to improve and reinforce yourself in ways that are important to you.

Time Management flows from self-awareness. Perhaps the most frequently discussed portion of Covey's book is Covey's practical yet profound recommendation regarding time management. Covey promotes weekly planning sessions to line up projects according to how well they fit your core values and goals. He advocates allocating the bulk of your time to tasks you identify as "important" (not to be confused with merely "urgent") by virtue of being closest to your core values and goals. Ideally tasks that you identify as less important will occupy little or none of your time because you will streamline, delegate or drop them altogether.

Empathic Listening is essential to effective communication. Another frequently discussed section of the book is Habit 5 ("First Seek to Understand..." ) found within a chapter appropriately enough entitled "Principles of Empathic Listening." Covey emphasizes the importance, the power, and in some situations the necessity of not merely going through the mechanical responses that might be required for ordinary listening, but opening oneself to the talker to the point where one can actually feel what they are feeling. Covey, as others, believes that the only way to establish communication in some professional and personal situations is by becoming, in small part, the person you are listening to. He uses the words "sensing" (others call it "intuition") to describe the information a listener can perceive through deep, empathic listening. The experience Covey describes, standing for a moment in another's shoes and seeing the world through their eyes, is something everyone is capable of, but most of us rarely (if ever) deliberately do. Covey notes that it takes time to listen empathically and practice to become adept at it, but the reward is a whole new level of communication and problem solving because a person acquires the ability to see a situation simultaneously from multiple points of view.

Listening is essential to effectiveness as a speaker. Covey also points out that to be an effective speaker one has to absorb feedback from (listen to) one's audience and adjust one's presentations according to what works most effectively for them.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Fireside (Simon and Schuster), 1989, 2000) (>Amazon.com).


This section was written by Bruce Wilson, an executive coach, trainer, and facilitator who has helped individual business people and organizations across the U.S. to improve their leadership, customer relationships, and teamwork. For more information about his work, or to get in touch with him, visit WilsonStrategies.com.


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