Author Stephen Covey (1989) loves a good antidote and frequently uses his experiences to highlight or emphasize the point he is making. Just recently, my family and I found ourselves living in one of Covey’s (1989) antidotes from the chapter entitled Seek First to Understand then be Understood (Covey, 1989, p. 119). It was Thursday, November 10, and my family and I were out to eat. We just didn’t have the motivation to cook, and we thought an early dinner at our local favorite Mexican restaurant would help lift our spirits. The day before, my wife had received a text, from her father, informing my wife that her cousin had committed suicide. The cousin had suffered from depression for decades and had been out of touch with most family members for years. It was sad and tragic news. Adding to this sad news, the previous day we had stayed up late watching the Presidential election results, and to our shock and horror, our new President was elected. Two very emotional events left us sitting at a table is shock and disbelief, while my three-year-old daughter sat in here high chair just being a kid.
Then it happened the antidote.
At the only other occupied table in the restaurant sat a middle-aged couple, the women of the table turned and spoke rather loudly saying, “Do you mind, you are too loud!”
I just replied, “I am sorry if my special needs daughter is too loud, I’ll see if there is some way I can punish her for you.” To be clear, my tone was not apologetic at all and was clearly an “F- You.”
THE HABIT: Seek First to Understand then be Understood
“Communication is the most important skill in life” (Covey, 1989, p. 119). I believe this to be true and yet it seems never to happen. Anyone can talk, and a lot of people only know how to talk. What is the need, now more than ever, are those people who can listen. Of course, there are those who can do reflective listening, but this is nothing more than just “parroting” back what the another person has said. Mimicking is not communication. Honest communication requires empathy. The words that are being said requires the listener to acknowledge what is being said and thinking about the conversation. The listener is required to remove their self from the conversation, no wandering thoughts, no ego and just openly listen. Covey (1989) dares us to listen from the heart. This requires reflecting, heartfelt thoughts about the other person, the speaker. When we, as the listener, can do this we begin to understand what the speaker is saying.
Covey (1989) wrote: “We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They're either speaking or preparing to speak. They're filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people's lives. (Covey, 1989, p. 121)
TEACHING THE HABIT: Students
The challenge here is how to teach 6th graders to listen with empathy. How can I create a lesson plan where students must set aside their egos when many of them have even begun to construct their egos? My answer came from a guiding teacher tool, The Common Core State Standards. In 6th grade students are to understand figurative language; like similes, personification, and irony.
Armed with what students need to know my plan is to create a series of scripts where students must “hear” what is being said and infer the mood and tone of the speaker. Let me give more detail. Student teams of four will be created. Each team member will have a role perform and a goal to achieve. To keep the game moving, there will be four rounds, and in each round, the role / goal will move to another player.
Speaker: The person will read the scripted sentence. The script will inform the speaker of the mood and tone of how they should speak.
Mooder: This person must record the mood of the speaker.
Toner: This person must record the tone of what the speaker is saying.
Feeling-er: Based on the words, the mood, and the tone, this person will record what the speaker if feeling.
After each round, students will have about 5 - 10 minutes to explore how well each team member did. A checklist for success will be posted in front of the class and will be the criteria for player and team success.
Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Simon and Schuster.