This article is the second of four articles summarizing habits that build character. These are habits outlined by the author Stephen Covey, the well-known author, educator, and businessman. The following describe habits three and four of the 7 habits of highly effective people.
Habit Number Three: Put First Things First
The third habit is a form of self-management. It’s having the ability to organize your life and set priorities. Covey makes the point that it’s easy to think that we need to manage our time. Yet, we all have the same amount of time and it remains constant, no matter the choices we make. Instead, the deeper challenge is to manage ourselves.
In order to meet this challenge, Covey outlined the four quadrants of time in the Time Management Matrix, which compares what is urgent and what is important in life. What is urgent requires immediate action while what is important often has to do with contributing to the larger vision. Sadly, many people will end up filling up their day with what is urgent – those things that are often visible and scream for attention. Some people are so busy, erroneously tending to what is urgent that they end up retreating to what is neither important nor urgent, such as going for a walk. Of course, taking care of ourselves emotionally and spiritually is a necessity; however self-care shouldn’t have to come as a result of a life filled with urgency.
What is essential to point out here is that at some point, we are always pushing some task aside, whether that task is important or urgent. Many people will find that they are putting the important aside in order to meet what is urgent. However, saying yes to the important things first (putting first things first) and learning to say no to other tasks, even if they appear urgent, can bring effectiveness and success. Keep in mind, wrote Covey, that important activities are powerful because they are closely tied to results. An increase in attention to these tasks is a move toward success.
Habit Number Four: Seek to Understand versus to Be Understood
When you are in dialogue with another, your first task is to listen. In fact, the degree to which you listen is a skill that strengthens over time. Most people listen long enough in order to say what they want to say. When you listen, use all of your senses, including your intuition. For instance, watch the body language of the person you’re speaking with. Listen for what he or she is communicating underneath the words. Then, when you respond, keep that in mind, responding to both the words and their unspoken meaning. This process can strengthen trust and respect. Your business partner or colleague will feel heard and understood. If you succeed in this task, your partner in conversation might be more willing to discuss in more detail his or her perspective. And, more importantly, he or she will also be more open to what you have to say. When you seek to understand others, you might find that you are also being understood. However, being understood is not the goal. The intention is to connect with and understand the place from which others are coming from.
Covey points out that empathic listening is putting money in the emotional bank accounts of others. The main point to empathizing is to deeply understand and feel the reasons why your business partner or spouse or child or client is responding the way he is. When you can feel and understand his or her point of view, you meet a deep psychological need and you fill the emotional bank account that so many people have empty. When others feel listened to and understood, the quality of the conversation, whether it is a business or personal one, then rests in an element of trust.
This article series will continue with two more articles that will describe the remaining three habits that Covey describes as necessary for living a fulfilling and meaningful life.
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