Monthly Archives: January, 2015

Covey’s Fifth Habit: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Stephen R. Covey’s fifth habit of highly effective people suggests that we must first seek to understand others before we seek to be understood ourselves. He points to the importance of actively listening with the intent of understanding rather than the common response of speaking or preparing to speak. Covey calls this ’empathic listening’, and argues that it goes far beyond “registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said.”

Covey draws on research that estimates that only one-tenth of our communications is conveyed through the words that we speak, whilst a third is represented by our sounds and almost two thirds by our gestures and body language. Empathic listening aims to understand meaning through “listening” to each of these communicative means: “you listen with your ears, but…more importantly, listen with your eyes and your heart.”

There are a number of skills involved in empathic listening, according to Covey, and they comprise of four developmental stages:

1. Mimic content – “active” or “reflective” listening (minimally effective)

2. Rephrase the content – reform the meaning in your own words and reflect it back to the person

3. Reflect feeling – paying greater attention to the way somebody feels about what they are saying.

4. Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling – this final stage gives the speaker “psychological air”. The listener is seeking to understand everything they are communicating, not only what they are saying through words. This is an important principle in cognitive coaching.


Once we seek to understand, then “knowing how to be understood is the other half of Habit 5.” In order to do this, Covey draws on the Greek philosophy ethospathoslogos.

Ethos is one’s “personal credibility, the faith people have in your integrity and competency.”

Pathos is the feeling, our empathy for others.

Logos refers to “the logic, the reasoning” component of the argument we are seeking to put forth.

Seeking first to understand others and then to be understood is within the Circle of Influence that Covey refers to earlier in his book, and it helps to expand that influence. Regardless of other people’s responses or behaviour, an individual can still attempt to understand. The more truly empathetic we are, the more opportunities for creative solutions that will present themselves, fostering more effective and productive relationships between people.



Covey’s Fourth Habit: Think Win-Win

In my previous posts, I have looked at the first three of Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey posits that when individuals (1) are proactive, (2) begin with the end in mind, and (3) put first things first, they move from dependence to independence. IMG_0598According to his thinking, when this triangle of ‘private’ or personal habits is achieved, we can look to move towards the higher plane of interdependence, wherein lie the next three habits.

Habit 4 is the tendency to “think Win-Win” – to look for the best outcome for all involved, in order to maintain long-term, mutually beneficial relationships in terms of family, social and business. Of course, there are other combinations of thinking involving winning and losing, all of which are outlined by Covey, and which may be appropriate in some circumstances. However, as he indicates, usually the most desirable outcomes for all come from Win-Win thinking.

Covey states that thinking Win-Win “is fundamental to success in all our interactions, and it embraces five interdependent dimensions of life. It begins with character and moves toward relationships, out of which flow agreements. It is nurtured in an environment where structure and systems are based on Win/Win. And it involves process.”

Character is the basis from which Win-Win thinking emerges, and everything else develops from the foundation. It involves integrity (the value we place on ourselves), maturity (defined by Covey as “the balance between courage and consideration”) and an abundance mentality (the belief that there is plenty out there for everybody).

Relationships develops from the foundation set by character. Through our integrity, maturity and abundance mentality, we are able to build trust with other individuals and work effectively towards shared goals and mutual benefits.

When we have formed relationships, the flow on effect is the ability to come to agreements. These “give definition and direction to Win-Win.” According to Covey, there are five elements to the Win-Win agreement:

1. Desired results – identify what is to be done and when.

2. Guidelines – specify the parameters within which the results are to be accomplished.

3. Resources – identify the support available to help accomplish the results.

4. Accountability – establishes standards of performance and the time of evaluation.

5. Consequences – specify what will happen as a result of the evaluation.

Structure and systems of the company, family unit or social group are important to the success of Win-Win thinking. If the talking is win-win, but the rewards benefit one party more than the other (Win-Lose) then there is likely to be an overall negative outcome for all.

Processes are the means by which we achieve a Win-Win end. It is how people go about understanding the other point of view, negotiating accordingly, identifying key issues and finding possible new options for achieving results.

So, Covey’s 4th habit describes the essence of interdependence – of working together to achieve positive results for all parties, rather than one party finding themselves with a profit while the other is at a deficit. This may be okay in sport, where one team wins and another loses, or in some areas of business, however generally in order to be strong and sustainable, organisations need to be able to work together. And it is certainly a way of thinking that needs to underpin our educational institutions – highly interdependent organisations where if Win/Lose thinking is the standard, then students are being impacted on detrimentally.

Covey’s Third Habit: Put First Things First

In my last post about Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I discussed his concept of things being created twice – once as an idea, the mental creation. The second creation is the physical creation of that idea, which forms Covey’s Third Habit.

The third habit is that of “putting first things first,” or practising effective personal management in order to achieve our goals. It is the left-brain aspect of self-management; how we break down, analyse, sequence, and apply projects, problems and challenges.

Covey explains that is the human quality of independent will “that really makes effective self-management possible.” He argues that it is our capacity to “make decisions and choices and act in accordance with them,” as well as “the ability to act rather than be acted upon.”

So when we are approaching a project or problem our ability to self-manage, or prioritise, in accordance with our goals and values, has an enormous impact on the outcome, or second creation of the vision.

There are a number of “generations” of time management that Covey discusses, each with their own limitations. The first generation involves notes and checklists, followed by the second generation characterised by calendars, diaries and appointment books. The third generation seems to be a complex combination of the first two – combining the important ideas related to prioritisation and the “relative worth of activities based on their relationship to [our] values.” It also includes daily and long-term planning to accomplish the goals and activities of greatest worth.

Whilst this third generation has great worth, it has a tendency to take out the human/relational element of our daily interactions, making the scheduling and control of time counterproductive. So how do we move to the fourth generation of self-management that combines enhanced human relationships with the accomplishment of results?

Covey suggests a time management matrix that captures how this might be achieved.The matrix consists of four quadrants:

Quadrant I – activities that are urgent and important

Quadrant II – activities that are not urgent but important.

Quadrant III – activities that are urgent but not important

Quadrant IV – activities that are not urgent and not important


Ideally, we want to be focusing mainly on activities that fall within Quadrant II. This will act to prevent problems that result in us having to focus on the crisis-management of Quadrant I. When we find ourselves focusing on Quadrants III and IV, this is when Covey suggests we are at our least effective – when we feel like we are doing a lot but not progressing or achieving our goals. Working within Quadrant II will allow us to effectively achieve results in relation to our vision and values in a time-efficient manner, whilst building positive working relationships with people.

As educators, who are often have a lot to do and minimal time in which to do it, this could provide a useful framework for helping to prioritise our own work and projects. On personal reflection, I can think of several times when I have felt “time-poor” and frustrated with a growing list of things to do. Whilst this growing list is inevitable in teaching, perhaps I wasn’t achieving as much as I would have liked because I was working within the bottom two quadrants. Yet there have also been times when I have had a lot to do, but have felt good “flow”, perhaps because during these times I was working more within Quadrant II. So, as the new school year commences in a couple of weeks, one of the aims I am setting myself is to be conscious of when I am working within each quadrant, and then adjusting my priorities to bring my activities into Quadrant II.


Teaching critical thinking

Last week a friend sent me the link to this article by Peter Ellerton, a lecturer in Critical Thinking at the University of Queensland, published by The Conversation. Ellerton questions what we mean when we say students are learning to think critically.

He points to the fact that educational outcomes often state that students will develop their ability to think critically, but this in itself is rather vague and not fully developed in any discipline, let alone in a cross-curricular context.

What Ellerton then proposes is a structure for approaching critical thinking across the curriculum. This structure is based on four key pillars:

1. Argumentation – “the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and an opponent with the intention of developing a position justified by rational analysis and inference.”

2. Logic – formal logic (deduction – the set of processes used in mathematics or a Sudoku puzzle) and informal logic (induction – how we generalise and analogise – often used in scientific processes).

3. Psychology – metacognition, “how our minds actually work”, and “the realisation that thinking isn’t so much something we do, as something that happens to us.”

4. The nature of science and statistics – learning about “the differences between hypotheses, theories and laws” to understand the credibility of science, and the use of statistics to empower students “to tackle difficult or complex issues.”

Ellerton is referring specifically to the teaching and learning of critical thinking at a tertiary level, but the structure that he proposes could be applied to a secondary or even primary school setting at an age-appropriate level. These four pillars could be defined in curriculum documents that propose the development of critical thinking skills, providing teachers from across disciplines a framework for explicitly targeting them throughout their programs. For example, it is incredibly empowering for a student to be able to understand and use metalanguage to describe and explain their cognitive and creative processes, or to analyse the processes used by others. Argumentation could take many different forms, from a debate, to an historical analysis, to a scientific report. Logic, the nature of science and statistics can also be embedded throughout the curriculum to teach critical thinking and enhance, not detract from, the content.

This isn’t to say that these skills are not being taught at all. What Ellerton is arguing for is the formalisation of a critical thinking curriculum in order to ensure that we are doing justice to what is an incredibly important and higher order thinking skill, and one that enhances content and allows our students to explore more independently and at a much greater depth.critical-thinking-cartoon

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