Authored by Tina Kapp
Part 2 of this series ended with an excerpt from Saint Francis’ prayer to be a light where there is darkness and joy where there is sadness. That prayer goes on to say:
Lord, grant that I may seek rather
To comfort than to be comforted;
To understand than to be understood.
This takes us to habit number five.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
One of the great frustrations that many people face in life is that they don’t feel understood. Most problems within friendships, relationships, and families stem from this.
You very clearly explain your thoughts on a subject that’s important to you, and the other person replies as if you’ve said nothing at all! Has that ever happened to you? It’s one of those things that can be hard to resolve because, more often than not, the other person in the conversation feels the same way about you! How annoying is that?
To help rectify this issue, there’s a wonderful skill that we can all develop. I know it’s something I have to improve in all the time. It’s called active listening.
Very often, we say we’re listening when really what we’re doing is thinking about how we’ll share our side or express our thoughts on the matter being discussed. Or we pretend to listen because we think we already know what the other person is going to say. Or we selectively listen, which is either picking out only the parts we agree with or sometimes only listening for things to get angry about.
Active listening includes not only hearing the words the other person is saying but also the tone they’re saying it in. It’s picking up clues like body language, expression, sarcasm, and all those things we use to communicate how we’re really feeling.
Imagine that you ask someone, “Hey, how’s it going?” and you get a Fine! in response, but it’s said in a huff and the person then stomps off. A bad listener might happily go about their day thinking, “Well, I’m glad to hear that person’s fine!” Whereas an active listener would know right away that something must be up, because of the person’s tone and action.
James said, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”1
All throughout Proverbs, King Solomon talks about the benefits of listening, and famously said, “Whoever answers before listening is both foolish and shameful.”2 It’s pretty embarrassing to get upset about something that turns out to be a misunderstanding. Actively listening can help us avoid that.
Practice being an active listener every time you have a conversation. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:
Are you actually listening to what the other person is saying or just waiting for a chance to say your part?
Are you distracted, thinking about something else?
Are you fidgeting with your phone or something else instead of looking at the one who’s talking?
If you notice yourself doing any of those things, it helps to imagine that when the person is done talking, you’ll have to repeat back to them what they said. That always helps me make sure I’m catching it. If you don’t understand something or missed it due to your mind wandering, apologize and ask them to repeat or clarify something. Listening is part of being an excellent communicator—a skill that will take you far in life.
The next habit that effective teens practice is to:
Synergy is when two or more people work together to create something better than any of them could on their own.
It’s great when you can use this principle to become more effective through good teamwork. Very few successful businesses are truly a one-man show. Most businesses need a collection of skills in order to be as effective as possible.
Think of your favorite band, for example. It’s likely made up of a few great individual musicians and the combination of their talents. The lyrics and tune (often written by more than one songwriter), the singer or singers’ voices, and the producer, recording and mixing, all work together to make the great song.
The bigger the business, the more people are needed to keep it growing and operating at a peak level. The boss doesn’t try to do everything, or quickly finds there’s a limit to what can be done alone. The clever ones start hiring, collaborating, and outsourcing to grow and become more effective.
It’s great to achieve things on your own, and you can get a wonderful sense of accomplishment from saying, “I did it all by myself.” However, sometimes we need our strengths combined with others’ to truly reach our full potential.
Like the story of the little boy trying to move a heavy couch. The dad came in and asked if he was using all his strength, and the little boy said, “Yes, of course I am!” The dad said, “Oh no you aren’t—you haven’t asked me to help you.” Through getting his dad’s help, the boy added to his own strength and capabilities.
God loves synergy and would often encourage His followers and prophets to use it throughout Bible history. I used to sing a song about Joshua. It said: “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.” Only it certainly wasn’t fought by Joshua all by his lonesome self. He was a great leader, because he put God’s rather crazy plan into action and organized everyone to work together. God told him to get seven priests with seven trumpets, and had to carry the ark of the covenant as they marched around the city once a day for six days—and seven times on the seventh day. They were to have armed guards marching in front and behind them. At the end of the seventh march on the seventh day, the whole army had to shout at the top of their voices at the same time the priests blew their trumpets. After all that, then the walls collapsed. It took a lot of teamwork and people properly playing their parts to get through the well-built and heavily guarded walls of Jericho.3
Jesus also encouraged synergy when He sent His disciples out two by two. Ecclesiastes gives some good reasons: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”4
Next time you find yourself struggling with something, see if you can find others to work with you to increase your abilities and effectiveness!
The last habit Sean Covey talks about is:
7. Sharpen the saw.
“Sharpening the saw” means that we never get too busy to renew ourselves. We should keep ourselves “sharp” so we can better deal with the problems we face.
Say you’re building a shelf, or working on some other carpentry project, and you carry on even when you notice your saw is dull and barely cutting through the wood. It’d be pretty silly to continue using a dull saw. Yes, you’d have to put your work on hold to sharpen it, but after you take the needed time, you can come back and accomplish your work faster and far more effectively.
Everyone needs to regularly take time to renew themselves and “sharpen their saw” in the four key dimensions of life, which are physical, social, mental, and spiritual.
The kind of things you can do to renew yourself physically include healthy eating, exercising, and getting enough rest. Study and work are tough on their own, but they can be much more challenging if you’re tired, hungry, or run-down. Taking time to rest and strengthen yourself physically puts you in a much better position to get your work done and keep your wits about you.
You can renew yourself socially and emotionally by taking time to build meaningful connections with your friends and family. You may not always get to live with or near them, and, trust me, one day you’ll look back and wish you had done more things with and for them.
You can keep yourself sharp mentally by reading each day. Also, you could record your thoughts by keeping a diary or blog and sharing what you learn as you go. Teaching or tutoring can be a good way to learn something well, as when you go over it with a student, you’re also giving yourself the chance to firmly implant or remember the thing you’re studying or learning about. In my dance company, I best remember the choreographies I’ve taught my students. When I first learn the steps, they never stick as well as when I carefully break them down and go over them with someone else.
Spiritually, we all need a little time out from the constant input that’s available 24/7—whether it’s the Internet, our phones, games, TV, radio, and so on. Getting out in nature—actually being somewhere quiet where you can think—can be so good for you. Entertainment is becoming more readily available and fast-paced, and in response, our attention span gets shorter. Taking a step back every now and then, doing something that lets us truly appreciate our lives and live in the moment, is invaluable.
Also, regularly taking time to pray for others, study God’s Word, and listen to a podcast or something spiritually feeding can help refresh your mind and keep negativity at bay.
Moses was both a good and bad example of this. Like most of us, sometimes he got it right and other times he had to be reminded to spend more time with the Lord. As the son of Pharaoh’s sister in Egypt, Moses sympathized with the children of Israel who were slaves. After seeing one of them badly mistreated, he took things into his own hands and killed an Egyptian. He then had to flee to the wilderness, where he spent forty years as a shepherd in preparation to lead God’s children out of Egypt. Talk about taking a time-out!5
Even Jesus took time away from the multitudes to spend time with His Father and train His disciples.6 If Jesus did this, how much more should we?
Every day provides an opportunity for renewal and recharging in each of these four areas.
Before I close, I want to list the seven habits of highly effective teens once again. As you hear them or read them, consider the habits you feel you should focus on. It won’t be a one-time thing, of course. These are habits that each of us will have to regularly remind ourselves about throughout our lifetime. They don’t have to necessarily be these habits either; they can be whatever healthy habits work for you to make you the effective person you are meant to be.
1. Be proactive.
2. Begin with the end in mind.
3. Put first things first.
4. Think win-win.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
7. Sharpen the saw.
I read a quote somewhere that said, “Do one thing each day that your future self will thank you for.” If you can do one thing a day that helps you to build good habits, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a balanced and a very effective you!
And every time you make the effort, go ahead and tell your future self, “You’re welcome.”
1 James 1:19 NIV
2 Proverbs 18:13 ISV
3 Joshua 5:13–6:27
4 Ecclesiastes 4:9–10,12 NIV
5 Exodus 2
6 John 3:22
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2015 by The Family International