two women talking over coffee on the couch

Seek to Understand before Being Understood

It happens frequently. We’re in conversation with someone, and the natural inclination is to start formulating our response, our rebuttal, our own ideas. If I were “cartooning” this, I would put competing bubbles in the air that kept being advanced in front of the language of the person talking to us. Why? Because once we start down that road, we have stopped listening. We stop seeking to understand. Instead, we start preparing for battle.


Either we jump to the conclusion that we already understand what the other person has not yet completely supplied, or we’re not willing to hear a person out with a desire to understand. Either way, we’re being rude in a subtle yet not fully disguised way. At the end of the day, I have been more concerned about winning than hearing, conquering than helping.

Years ago, I remember this great advice from Stephen Covey–“Seek to understand before being understood.” It puts the weight of responsibility on LISTENING rather than responding. Friends, that takes work, discipline, and a willingness to serve. It’s not natural for most of us, but it is ESSENTIAL.

So, I’m trying to slow down my conversation. It’s not a race; it’s not a competition. Someone has initiated because they want to be heard even more than they seek answers. So taking a few more steps to make sure we have understood a person’s concern actually helps the conversation.

Maybe that’s why we’re urged in scripture: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Maybe if we listened better, the argument would never get airborne in the first place. (Will you join me in trying to practice this?)

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