Four Autobiographical Responses Because
we listen autobiographically, we tend to respond in one of four ways. We evaluate -- we either agree or disagree; we probe -- we ask questions from our own frame of reference; we advise -- we give counsel based on our own experience; or we interpret -- we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behavior, based on our own motives and behavior. These responses come naturally to us. We are deeply scripted in them; we live around models of them all the time. But how do they affect our ability to really understand? If I'm trying to communicate with my son, can he feel free to open himself up to me when I evaluate everything he says before he really explains it? Am I giving him psychological air? And how does he feel when I probe? Probing is playing 20 questions. It's autobiographical, it controls, and it invades. It's also logical, and the language of logic is different from the language of sentiment and emotion. You can play 20 questions all day and not find out what's important to someone. Constant probing is one of the main reasons parents do not get close to their children. "How's it going, son?" "Fine." "Well, what's been happening lately?" "Nothing." "So what's exciting at school?" "Not much." "And what are your plans for the weekend?" "I don't know." You can't get him off the phone talking with his friends, but all he gives you is one- and two-word answers. Your house is a motel where he eats and sleeps, but he never shares, never opens up. And when you think about it, honestly, why should he, if every time he does open up his soft underbelly, you elephant stomp it with autobiographical advice and "I told you so's." We are so deeply scripted in these responses that we don't even realize when we use them. I have taught this concept to thousands of people in seminars across the country, and it never fails to shock them deeply as we role-play empathic listening situations and they finally begin to listen to their own typical responses. But as they begin to see how they normally respond and learn how to listen with empathy, they can see the dramatic 157 results in communication. To many, seek first to understand becomes the most exciting, the most immediately applicable, of all the Seven Habits. Let's take a look at what well might be a typical communication between a father and his teenage son. Look at the father's words in terms of the four different responses we have just described. "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" "What's the matter, Son?" (probing). "It's totally impractical. I don't get a thing out of it." "Well, you just can't see the benefits yet, Son. I felt the same way when I was your age." I remember thinking what a waste some of the classes were. But those classes turned out to be the most helpful to me later on. Just hang in there. Give it some time" (advising). "I've given it 10 years of my life! Can you tell me what good 'x plus y' is going to be to me as an auto mechanic?" "An auto mechanic? You've got to be kidding" (evaluating). "No, I'm not. Look at Joe. He's quit school. He's working on cars. And he's making lots of money. Now that's practical." "It may look that way now. But several years down the road, Joe's going to wish he'd stayed in school. You don't want to be an auto mechanic. You need an education to prepare you for something better than that" (advising). "I don't know. Joe's got a pretty good set-up." "Look, Son, have you really tried?" (probing, evaluating). "I've been in high school two years now. Sure I've tried. It's just a waste." "That's a highly respected school, Son. Give them a little credit" (advising, evaluating). "Well, the other guys feel the same way I do." "Do you realize how many sacrifices your mother and I have made to get you to where you are? You can't quit when you've come this far" (evaluating). "I know you've sacrificed, Dad. But it's just not worth it." "Look, maybe if you spent more time doing your homework and less time in front of TV." (advising, evaluating). "Look, Dad. It's just no good. Oh, never mind! I don't want to talk about this anyway." Obviously, his father was well intended. Obviously, he wanted to help. But did he even begin toreally understand? 158 Let's look more carefully at the son -- not just his words, but his thoughts and feelings (expressed parenthetically below) and the possible effect of some of his dad's autobiographical responses. "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" (I want to talk with you, to get your attention.) "What's the matter, Son?" (You're interested! Good!) "It's totally impractical. I don't get a thing out of it." (I've got a problem with school, and I feel just terrible. "Well, you just can't see the benefits yet, son. I felt the same way when I was your age." (Oh, no! Here comes Chapter three of Dad's autobiography. This isn't what I want to talk about. I don't really care how many miles he had to trudge through the snow to school without any boots. I want to get to the problem.) "I remember thinking what a waste some of the classes were. But those classes turned out to be the most helpful to me later on. Just hang in there. Give it some time." (Time won't solve my problem. I wish I could tell you. I wish I could just spit it out.) "I've given it 10 years of my life! Can you tell me what good 'x plus y' is going to do me as an auto mechanic?" "An auto mechanic? You've got to be kidding." ( He wouldn't like me if I were an auto mechanic. He wouldn't like me if I didn't finish school. I have to justify what I said.) "No, I'm not. Look at Joe. He's quit school. He's working on cars. And he's making lots of money. Now that's practical." "It may look that way now. But several years down the road, Joe's going to wish he'd stayed in school." (Oh, Boy! here comes lecture number 16 on the value of an education.) "You don't want to be an auto mechanic." (How do you know that, Dad? Do you really have any idea what I want?) "You need an education to prepare you for something better than that." "I don't know. Joe's got a pretty good set-up." (He's not a failure. He didn't finish school and he's not a failure.) "Look, Son, have you really tried?" (We're beating around the bush, Dad. If you'd just listen, I really need to talk to you about something important.) "I've been in high school two years now. Sure I've tried. It's just a waste." "That's a highly respected school, Son. Give them a little credit." (Oh, great. Now we're talking credibility. I wish I could talk about what I want to talk about.) "Well, the other guys feel the same way I do." (I have some credibility, too. I'm not a moron.) "Do you realize how many sacrifices your mother and I have made to get you where you are?" (Uh-oh, here comes the guilt trip. Maybe I am a moron. The school's great, Mom and Dad are great, and I'm a moron.) "You can't quit when you've come this far." 159 "I know you've sacrificed, Dad. But it's just not worth it." (You just don't understand.) "Look, maybe if you spent more time doing your homework and less time in front of TV..." (That's not the problem, Dad! That's not it at all! I'll never be able to tell you. I was dumb to try.) "Look, Dad. It's just no good. Oh, never mind! I don't want to talk about this anyway." Can you see how limited we are when we try to understand another person on the basis of words alone, especially when we're looking at that person through our own glasses? Can you see how limiting our autobiographical responses are to a person who is genuinely trying to get us to understand his autobiography? You will never be able to truly step inside another person, to see the world as he sees it, until you develop the pure desire, the strength of personal character, and the positive Emotional Bank Account, as well as the empathic listening skills to do it. The skills, the tip of the iceberg of empathic listening, involve four developmental stages The first and least effective is to mimic content. This is the skill taught in "active" or "reflective" listening. Without the character and relationship base, it is often insulting to people and causes them to close up. It is, however, a first-stage skill because it at least causes you to listen to what's being said Mimicking content is easy. You just listen to the words that come out of someone's mouth and you repeat them. You're hardly even using your brain at all "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" "You've had it. You think school is for the birds." You have essentially repeated back the content of what was being said. You haven't evaluated or probed or advised or interpreted. You've at least showed you're paying attention to his words. But to understand, you want to do more. The second stage of empathic listening is to rephrase the content. It's a little more effective, but it's still limited to the verbal communication "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" "You don't want to go to school anymore." This time, you've put his meaning into your own words. Now you're thinking about what he said, mostly with the left side, the reasoning, logical side of the brain. The third stage brings your right brain into operation. You reflect feeling. "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" "You're feeling really frustrated." Now you're not paying as much attention to what he's saying as you are to the way he feels about what he's saying. The fourth stage includes both the second and the third. You rephrase the content and reflect the feeling. 160 "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" "You're really frustrated about school." Frustration is the feeling; school is the content. You're using both sides of your brain to understand both sides of his communication. Now, what happens when you use fourth stage empathic listening skills is really incredible. As you authentically seek to understand, as you rephrase content and reflect feeling, you give him psychological air. You also help him work through his own thoughts and feelings. As he grows in his confidence of your sincere desire to really listen and understand, the barrier between what's going on inside him and what's actually being communicated to you disappears. It opens a soul-to-soul flow. He's not thinking and feeling one thing and communicating another. He begins to trust you with his innermost tender feelings and thoughts. "Boy, Dad, I've had it! School is for the birds!" (I want to talk with you to get your attention.) "You're really frustrated about school." (That's right! That's how I feel.) "I sure am. It's totally impractical. I'm not getting a thing out of it." "You feel like school's not doing you any good." (Let me think -- is that what I mean?) "Well, yeah. I'm just not learning anything that's going to help me. I mean, look at Joe. He's dropped out of school and he's working on cars. He's making money. Now that's practical." "You feel that Joe really has the right idea." (Well...) "Well, I guess he does in a way. He's really making money now. But in a few years I bet he'll probably be ticked off at himself." "You think Joe's going to feel he made the wrong decision." "He's got to. Just look at what he's giving up. I mean, if you don't have an education, you just can't make it in this world." "Education is really important." "Oh, yeah! I mean, if you don't have a diploma, if you can't get jobs or go to college, what are you going to do? You've just got to get an education." "It's important to your future." "It is. And, you know what? I'm really worried. Listen, you won't tell Mom, will you?" "You don't want your mother to find out." "Well, not really. Oh, I guess you can tell her. She'll probably find out anyway. Look, I took this test today, this reading test. And, Dad, they said I'm reading on a fourth-grade level. Fourth grade! And I'm in junior high school!" 161 What a difference real understanding can make! All the well-meaning advice in the world won't amount to a hill of beans if we're not even addressing the real problem. And we'll never get to the problem if we're so caught up in our own autobiography, our own paradigms, that we don't take off our glasses long enough to see the world from another point of view. "I'm going to flunk, Dad. I guess I figure if I'm going to flunk, I might as well quit. But I don't want to quit." "You feel torn. You're in the middle of a dilemma." "What do you think I should do, Dad?" By seeking first to understand, this father has just turned a transactional opportunity into a transformational opportunity. Instead of interacting on a surface, get-the-job-done level of communication, he has created a situation in which he can now have transforming impact, not only on his son but also on the relationship. By setting aside his own autobiography and really seeking to understand, he has made a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank Account and has empowered his son to open, layer upon layer, and to get to the real issue. Now father and son are on the same side of the table looking at the problem, instead of on opposite sides looking across at each other. The son is opening his father's autobiography and asking for advice. Even as the father begins to counsel, however, he needs to be sensitive to his son's communication. As long as the response is logical, the father can effectively ask questions and give counsel. But the moment the response becomes emotional, he needs to go back to empathic listening. "Well, I can see some things you might want to consider." "Like what, Dad?" "Like getting some special help with your reading. Maybe they have some kind of tutoring program over at the tech school." "I've already checked into that. It takes two nights and all day Saturday. That would take so much time!" Sensing emotion in that reply, the father moves back to empathy. "That's too much of a price to pay." "Besides, Dad, I told the sixth graders I'd be their coach." "You don't want to let them down." "But I'll tell you this, Dad. If I really thought that tutoring course would help, I'd be down there every night. I'd get someone else to coach those kids." "You really want the help, but you doubt if the course will make a difference." 162 "Do you think it would, Dad?" The son is once more open and logical. He's opening his father's autobiography again. Now the father has another opportunity to influence and transform. There are times when transformation requires no outside counsel. Often when people are really given the chance to open up, they unravel their own problems and the solutions become clear to them in the process. At other times, they really need additional perspective and help. The key is to genuinely seek the welfare of the individual, to listen with empathy, to let the person get to the problem and the solution at his own pace and time. Layer upon layer -- it's like peeling an onion until you get to the soft inner core. When people are really hurting and you really listen with a pure desire to understand, you'll be amazed how fast they will open up. They want to open up. Children desperately want to open up, even more to their parents than to their peers. And they will, if they feel their parents will love them unconditionally and will be faithful to them afterwards and not judge or ridicule them. If you really seek to understand, without hypocrisy and without guile, there will be times when you will be literally stunned with the pure knowledge and understanding that will flow to you from another human being. It isn't even always necessary to talk in order to empathize. In fact, sometimes words may just get in your way. That's one very important reason why technique alone will not work. That kind of understanding transcends technique. Isolated technique only gets in the way. I have gone through the skills of empathic listening because skill is an important part of any habit. We need to have the skills. But let me reiterate that the skills will not be effective unless they come from a sincere desire to understand. People resent any attempt to manipulate them. In fact, if you're dealing with people you're close to, it's helpful to tell them what you're doing. "I read this book about listening and empathy and I thought about my relationship with you. I realized I haven't listened to you like I should. But I want to. It's hard for me. I may blow it at times, but I'm going to work at it. I really care about you and I want to understand. I hope you'll help me." Affirming your motive is a huge deposit. But if you're not sincere, I wouldn't even try it. It may create an openness and a vulnerability that will later turn to your harm when a person discovers that you really didn't care, you really didn't want to listen, and he's left open, exposed, and hurt. The technique, the tip of the iceberg, has to come out of the massive base of character underneath. Now there are people who protest that empathic listening takes too much time. It may take a little more time initially but it saves so much time downstream. The most efficient thing you can do if you're a doctor and want to prescribe a wise treatment is to make an accurate diagnosis. You can't say, "I'm in too much of a hurry. I don't have time to make a diagnosis. Just take this treatment." 163 I remember writing one time in a room on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. There was a soft breeze blowing, and so I had opened two windows -- one at the front and one at the side -- to keep the room cool. I had a number of papers laid out, chapter by chapter, on a large table. Suddenly, the breeze started picking up and blowing my papers about. I remember the frantic sense of loss I felt because things were no longer in order, including unnumbered pages, and I began rushing around the room trying desperately to put them back. Finally, I realized it would be better to take 10 seconds and close one of the windows. Empathic listening takes time, but it doesn't take anywhere near as much time as it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you're already miles down the road, to redo, to live with unexpressed and unsolved problems, to deal with the results of not giving people psychological air. A discerning empathic listener can read what's happening down deep fast, and can show such acceptance, such understanding, that other people feel safe to open up layer after layer until they get to that soft inner core where the problem really lies. People want to be understood. And whatever investment of time it takes to do that will bring much greater returns of time as you work from an accurate understanding of the problems and issues and from the high Emotional Bank Account that results when a person feels deeply understood. Understanding and Perception As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception. You will also begin to appreciate the impact that these differences can have as people try to work together in interdependent situations. You see the young woman; I see the old lady. And both of us can be right. You may look at the world through spouse-centered glasses; I may see it through the money-centered lens of economic concern. You may be scripted in the Abundance Mentality; I may be scripted in the Scarcity Mentality. You may approach problems from a highly visual, intuitive, holistic right-brain paradigm; I may be very left brain, very sequential, analytical, and verbal in my approach. Our perceptions can be vastly different. And yet we both have lived with our paradigms for years, thinking they are "facts," and questioning the character or the mental competence of anyone who can't "see the facts." Now, with all our differences, we're trying to work together -- in a marriage, in a job, in a community service project -- to manage resources and accomplish results. So how do we do it? How do we transcend the limits of our individual perceptions so that we can deeply communicate, so that we can cooperatively deal with the issues and come up with win-win solutions? 164 The answer is Habit 5. It's the first step in the process of win-win. Even if (and especially when) the other person is not coming from that paradigm, seek first to understand. This principle worked powerfully for one executive who shared with me the following experience. "I was working with a small company that was in the process of negotiating a contract with a large national banking institution. This institution flew in their lawyers from San Francisco, their negotiator from Ohio, and presidents of two of their large banks to create an eight-person negotiating team. The company I worked with had decided to go for Win-Win or No Deal. They wanted to significantly increase the level of service and the cost, but they had been almost overwhelmed with the demands of this large financial institution. "The president of our company sat across the negotiating table and told them, 'We would like for you to write the contract the way you want it so that we can make sure we understand your needs and your concerns. We will respond to those needs and concerns. Then we can talk about pricing.' "The members of the negotiating team were overwhelmed. They were astounded that they were going to have the opportunity to write the contract. They took three days to come up with the idea. "When they presented it, the president said, 'Now let's make sure we understand what you want.' And he went down the contract, rephrasing the content, reflecting the feeling, until he was sure and they were sure he understood what was important to them. 'Yes. That's right. No, that's not exactly what we meant here...yes, you've got it now.' "When he thoroughly understood their perspective, he proceeded to explain some concerns from his perspective. . .and they listened. They were ready to listen. They weren't fighting for air. What had started out as a very formal, low-trust, almost hostile atmosphere had turned into a fertile environment for synergy. "At the conclusion of the discussions, the members of the negotiating team basically said, 'We want to work with you. We want to do this deal. Just let us know what the price is and we'll sign.'" Then Seek to Be Understood Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Knowing how to be understood is the other half of Habit 5, and is equally critical in reaching win-win solutions. Earlier we defined maturity as the balance between courage and consideration. Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage. Win-win requires a high degree of both. So it becomes important in interdependent situations for us to be understood. The early Greeks had a magnificent philosophy which is embodied in three sequentially arranged words: ethos, pathos, and logos. I suggest these three words contain the essence of seeking first to understand and making effective presentations. Ethos is your personal credibility, the faith people have in your integrity and competency. It's the trust that you inspire, your Emotional Bank Account. Pathos is the empathic side -- it's the feeling. It means that you are in alignment with the emotional 165 trust of another person's communication. Logos is the logic, the reasoning part of the presentation. Notice the sequence: ethos, pathos, logos -- your character, and your relationships, and then the logic of your presentation. This represents another major Paradigm Shift. Most people, in making presentations, go straight to the logos, the left-brain logic, of their ideas. They try to convince other people of the validity of that logic without first taking ethos and pathos into consideration. I had an acquaintance who was very frustrated because his boss was locked into what he felt was an unproductive leadership style. "Why doesn't he do anything?" he asked me. "I've talked to him about it, he's aware of it, but he does nothing." "Well, why don't you make an effective presentation?" I asked. "I did," was the reply. "How do you define 'effective'? Who do they send back to school when the salesman doesn't sell -- the buyer? Effective means it works; it means P/PC. Did you create the change you wanted? Did you build the relationship in the process? What were the results of your presentation?" "I told you, he didn't do anything. He wouldn't listen." "Then make an effective presentation. You've got to empathize with his head. You've got to get into his frame of mind. You're got to make your point simply and visually and describe the alternative he is in favor of better than he can himself. That will take some homework. Are you willing to do that?" "Why do I have to go through all that?" he asked "In other words, you want him to change his whole leadership style and you're not willing to change your method of presentation?" "I guess so," he replied. "Well, then," I said, "just smile about it and learn to live with it." "I can't live with it," he said. "It compromises my integrity." "Okay, then get to work on an effective presentation. That's in your Circle of Influence." In the end, he wouldn't do it. The investment seemed too great. Another acquaintance, a university professor, was willing to pay the price. He approached me one day and said, "Stephen, I can't get to first base in getting the funding I need for my research because my research is really not in the mainstream of this department's interests." After discussing his situation at some length, I suggested that he develop an effective presentation using ethos, pathos, and logos. "I know you're sincere and the research you 166 want to do would bring great benefits. Describe the alternative they are in favor of better than they can themselves. Show that you understand them in depth. Then carefully explain the logic behind your request." "Well, I'll try," he said. "Do you want to practice with me?" I asked. He was willing, and so we dress rehearsed his approach. When he went in to make his presentation, he started by saying, "Now let me see if I first understand what your objectives are, and what your concerns are about this presentation and my recommendation." He took the time to do it slowly, gradually. In the middle of his presentation, demonstrating his depth of understanding and respect for their point of view, a senior professor turned to another professor, nodded, turned back to him and said, "You've got your money." When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually -- in the context of a deep understanding of their paradigms and concerns -- you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas. You're not wrapped up in your "own thing," delivering grandiose rhetoric from a soapbox. You really understand. What you're presenting may even be different from what you had originally thought because in your effort to understand, you learned. Habit 5 lifts you to greater accuracy, greater integrity, in your presentations. And people know that. They know you're presenting the ideas which you genuinely believe, taking all known facts and perceptions into consideration, that will benefit everyone.