Seek First To Understand Then To Be Understood

Seek first to understand then to be understoodSeek first to understand and then to be understood is a phrase that Steven Covey made popular in his book 7 habits of highly effective people. I practice this often and not often enough. Just yesterday I this principle slowly manifested itself in a conversation with Coley who is one of the awesome people I work with. You might learn how important this principle could be in your own life if I communicate the experience with you effectively.

Coley was driving the forklifht pulling material on pallets from various locations on the floor for orders last night. Each location is arranged in rows. Each row has 2 ends. In between the row is a barrier which is nothing but a 6 x 6 piece of wood on the floor. Usually there is different material on each side of the wooden barrier.

The latest added rows doesn’t have the 6 x 6 piece of wood on the floor. It was this row he was pulling from last night where we were talking.

I was explaining to him that the rows didn’t follow the natural and logical identification lettering as the other rows. That particular row is lettered M20 and should be K20. I also informed him that if he needed to break into a pallet to get a few pieces as opposed using the entire unopened pallet, check both ends to make sure there isn’t a pallet that has already been broken into. I added, people are not doing that and there are multiple pallets of the same part broken into at once. We call those partial pallets and they waste room on the floor.

He said, “Well, if you think about it, the average puller is not going to know that on this row, the same material is on each end.”

I replied with, “If they check they will know if there should be singles or a partial pallet in this row or not and they would then be able to assume that there is another end.”

He said, “I understand that but, still if the average puller comes to this lane they won’t know that it is the same on the other end. So they won’t check. The system doesn’t always reflect accurate information.”

Well, instead of me trying harder to figure out what he was saying or asking him to elaborate, I wanted to defend and emphasize how following the process would help everyone. He felt unheard and rightfully so because I said again, “Yes but if they don’t check the system, they don’t even have a bases from which to draw a conclusion about whether it is accurate or not. You can’t assume every time that if you don’t see an open pallet or singles that there are none, you have to check the system first and even if you don’t, when you get to a row that the material is in, check both sides.”

Coley restated his position about a puller coming to that row would not assume there is another end to check. He was right and I finally got what he was saying. That row is different than all other rows. Other rows has a barrier in the middle and at the other end is a different material, therefor there is no need to check the other side. That was the only point he was trying to make.   His point was simple. I made it complicated at first, until it finally sunk in as I tried more and more to see the issue from his point of view.

So. often times we engage in conversation on a mission to get our point across. However, if we don’t listen and work hard to understand the other persons input and perspective, the communication is a fail. Lucking Coley and I and the rest of the people at work are on great terms and do work together well so we were able to go back and forth long enough until the communication was a success.

We wasted 6 minutes going in circles. That could have been avoided if I had been listening more carefully immediately to Coley’s first response to what I had said and simply acknowledged by saying what I finally said, “Ohhhh yeah, that’s a good point!”

That would have shown I was listening and understood his comment and feedback and it would have actually helped me to communicate with the next person pulling from that location more effectively.

Note: In case you don’t get it, his point was, whether you look in the system or not, rows don’t usually contain the same part number on each end. It is only half of a row with the same part. That being the case, even if the system says there are singles or a broken pallet in that location, the puller is not going to go around to the other side of the row because rows don’t usually have another side. He will break open a new pallet because sometimes the partial pallet or singles pieces have been removed from a location and the puller who moves them physically hasn’t done so in the system yet so the system isn’t updated.