Covey’s 5th habit is one of the key ways for smooth, successful interactions with other people. We have this tendency to go in and give our opinions, but it is not only ineffective (when was the last time you really valued advice you didn’t ask for?), you’ll probably be wrong most of the time. You can’t give solid advice without taking the time to diagnose and deeply understand the problem.

This is where the next habit comes in: understand the other before you try to get your own message across. To achieve this, you really need to listen with empathy: listening with the intent to understand. Your only goal is to really understand what the other person thinks and feels.

In some relationships, you might have the feeling that the way things are going is outside your control and that you don’t have any influence on it. This is not true: you can always seek to understand, this lies within your reach. As you’re focussing on this, people will feel safer to really open up to you about their thoughts and feelings.

Really understanding someone requires real listening. It is hard work, but well worth it.