Victor Cheng, the prolific business writer and bastion to McKinsey alums and aspiring strategy consultants all over the world, put together a thoughtful note on the ideas that made Covey one of the most-read business authors in our time.
Most resonant – Cheng’s reflections on the fifth habit: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Insightful and effective. Read on for Cheng’s full post.
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One of the very first business / success books I read was in
1990. (And yes, I realize this is before some of my readers
were born...) At the time, it was a brand new book titled: The
7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
It was written by a new author named Stephen Covey. Covey's book would eventually become one of the best selling books of all time (25 million copies sold) and influence people decades later.
As you might have heard, Stephen Covey passed away earlier today.
Upon hearing the news of his passing, I realized that much of what has made me successful has come in part from adopting (and working to adopt those 7 habits).
It has taken my 20+ years, and I still have not mastered them all. I find the last habit -- Sharpen the Saw (renewal, balance) -- an on-going struggle to live by. Back in 1990, I just KNEW that would be the toughest habit for me. It continues to be true.
For life effectiveness, I found habits 1 - 3 timelessly useful:
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Much of what I teach all of you is very much in alignment with these habits.
Habits 1 - 2 focus on figuring out what you want and working backwards -- as opposed to observing what everyone else
is doing and just trying to beat them.
Habit 3 focuses on doing what is important, not necessarily what is urgent. The two are definitely not the same.
Upon further reflection, I realized that my adoption of habits 4 - 6 have in large part contributed to why I developed such strong client skills at such a young age at McKinsey (relative to my same aged peer group at the time).
I'll summarize these habits here and hopefully you'll be able to see why this has been the case for me and how you might be able to do the same:
** Habit 4: Think Win/Win **
In working with clients (as well as other people from your life), its very useful to find a solution to a problem where everybody wins. While this is simple in concept, it takes extra effort to implement in practice.
One of my long-held business philosophies is that everybody I do business with, must win. Even the people that don't actually transact financially with me, they too must win.
When people realize that you're always helping the try to win, and trust that this is you intent, they want to engage with you more and more often. This is very habit 4: Think Win/Win.
** Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood **
In working with clients, especially ones that distrust you or your firm, an incredibly disarming way to build trust is to just show up, shut your mouth, and listen. Don't try to convince these new clients they are wrong, or that they need to listen to you and help you.
Just show up, listen, take notes, and ask clarifying questions to confirm you UNDERSTOOD what they're saying.
It is very, very hard to sustain inherited anger or resentment towards someone who listens to, and confirms understanding of your every word.
I have done this both with consulting clients and also when working in industry. One of the beautiful outcomes of this approach is once someone knows you've heard and UNDERSTOOD them, even if you make a decision or make a recommendation that is NOT what they were hoping for, they are 10 times more likely to accept the decision.
I remember one colleague of mine who explained this to me. I made a decision that would cause him and his team to do a lot more work. But he said to me:
"Victor I understand that there are other factors that go into the final decision. I figure that since you (meaning me, Victor) know and UNDERSTAND what's important to us, if the decision doesn't go our way, then it must be because there are other factors that are even more important. Because we trust that you understand us, we trust your final decision will balance all factors -- even the ones we are not personally familiar with."
By the way that last paragraph embodies a PRICELESS lesson in managing client relationships and very much embodies habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
The principle of habit 6 is in any situation where you're deciding between two seemingly opposing options, come up with a THIRD option. Often in client situations, you have one group of clients that wants X and the other wants Y.
This might occur in a post merger situation, where former employees of Company 1 are arguing for one approach, but former employees of Company 2 are arguing for a different one.
Or it might be a rivalry between two divisions of the same company, or a disagreement between two departments of the same division.
In these situations, both groups tend to just FIGHT.
I want this.
No I want that, etc...
But when you come in, understand what both are trying to accomplish (Habit 5), and come with a win/win attitude (Habit 4), then it moves you to consider creating a previously unmentioned "third option" that gets everyone more of what they want.
It is the equivalent of rather than fighting over what % of the pie (of resources) each side gets, it's about finding a way to grow the size of the pie.
Though I have briefly summarized the 7 Habits book, I know that I have not done them justice. It is still worth reading 7 Habits as the explanations and examples really help one to internalize the key ideas.
In his 79 years of life, Covey made amazing contributions that have benefited me and countless others. He will be missed.
While he has passed away, his body of work, his legacy, has and will continue to stand the test of time.
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