Seek to understand — it’s a powerful resource for families

Story by Joyce Buck
Mon, Jun 10, 2013
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In the child and family studies department at Weber State University, I teach a class called Family Resource Management.

The course considers effective communication to be an essential element for successful management in family settings. We discuss a number of communication characteristics. It may be that with just a little coaching (and some practice), the tactics that do not work well in communication can be replaced with communication skills that do.

Consider Stephen Covey’s empathic listening strategy. When developed, this kind of listening allows the discovery of the undiluted viewpoint and emotion of the sender. It’s a skill parents often have difficulty with. I do, too.

One morning my daughter, who was in middle school, refused to get out of bed and get ready for school. Her dad was at home, so I left her in bed and went to work. After my first class, I called to see how she was doing. “Are you sick?” I asked. “Why don’t you want to go to school?”

She replied: “School sucks.”

I was tempted to pour out the lecture about how good students have good teachers and prepared students are happy to go to school, but I had just been reading Covey. It would be a good idea to just listen, I thought. “Tell me about it,” I suggested.

She gave me a list of “ickies,” like there were too many people in the hallway at the same time, kids talk in class, the teachers are grouchy, people push in the lunch line, and there was no application for the stuff they were supposed to learn.

It was a long list. I listened.

“Anything else?” I asked.

There was more. The list went on and included things like: no condiments on the lunch table, school starts too early, and everybody talks about everybody else.

It was time for me to go to class, so I said I would call back later, told her I loved her, and hung up.

When I called back, her dad answered. “What did you say to Dolly?” he asked. “As soon as she hung up, she showered, got dressed and asked me to take her to school.”

Seeking first to understand was powerful!

Covey sums it up: “Before you try to evaluate and prescribe, before you try to present your own ideas — seek to understand. It’s a powerful habit of effective interdependence.”

It’s also a powerful family resource.

Information for this article comes from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey (Free Press, 2004). Joyce Buck is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.

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