First Understand, Then Be Understood

AUGUST 15, 2016
This is the fifth part of an 8-part series called “7 Habits of Highly Effective Pharmacists.”
Poor communication in the workplace causes many pharmacists to feel misunderstood by their patients, bosses, and coworkers.

The best way to influence others—whether at work or home—is through your conduct. Think about someone who influenced you to do something, like buy a house or get married. There’s a relationship there that probably inspired some openness and trust in you. The other individual in the relationship did that by creating trust over time—and probably by listening to you.

Listen Up
Habit 5, called “First Understand, Then Be Understood,” is based on listening.

My wife, Megan, and I struggle with communication, as many married couples do. Just this morning, she was saying she hasn’t been feeling well in the past few days. She was asking me what medicines she should take and telling me some things she’s already tried, but I wasn’t listening.

Think about the last communication you had with someone before reading this. Were you only listening in preparation to speak? That’s what I was doing this morning. My mind was in other places, and I wasn’t empathizing with my wife; I was spouting off my perspective.

Sometimes, Megan simply wants me to listen and be understanding. She needs me to focus on what she’s saying and not what I’m thinking. I realized it’s easy to overlook her perspective and think solely about what I want to say rather than listen.

When I finally took the time to understand my wife, it changed how I understood the situation. I could focus on her rather than on figuring out how to solve the problem as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, taking the time to understand can actually be a time-saver.

Understand First
To summarize Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the key to effective communication is to understand others before they understand you.

Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to empathize with my wife because I often assume she thinks like I do. In reality, she doesn’t think the same way that I do—which is good.

Typically, there are 4 ways we respond to our partners in conversations:
1.     Evaluate why we agree or disagree. In my example, I was evaluating why I disagreed with my wife and her conclusions. 
2.     Probe and ask questions, but that’s usually because we want to understand the motives from our own frame of reference. 
3.     Give advice, but that’s often based on our own experience rather than an understand of the other individual's perspective. 
4.     Interpret others based on our own paradigm. However, when you see someone’s issue through their own lens, you can understand them better.

Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.