Habit 5: Practicing and Teaching the Principle at Home

Author: Tara West
September 19, 2019

habit 5

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® is the habit of listening to other people’s ideas and feelings. It’s trying to see things from their viewpoints. I listen to others without interrupting. It’s about being confident in voicing your ideas. It’s about looking people in the eyes when speaking. Habit 5 is a timeless principle we all strive to teach our kids; it teaches them to be confident when speaking to others while also teaching them the importance of listening to others when they are speaking.

Habit 5 is about communication. The best way to teach someone how to communicate is by practicing it with them.


Habit 5: Practicing and Teaching the Principle

Download Habit 5 Worksheet 


I am fortunate to be a member of a large extended family.

My father’s side has 101 people and my mother’s side has 50, plus we have at least two babies on the way that we know of right now. In total, that’s 153 pairs of eyes and ears. That’s 153 different mouths.

And with that 153 comes a lot of communication; a lot of speaking and a lot of listening.

So for my family, habit 5 is especially important since communication is key to preserving our family’s history.

Growing up, both my mother’s and father’s parents lived within 10 minutes of us as well as most of their siblings. Family gatherings were frequent and often crowded.

I loved it!

I suppose I appreciate those days more now, as most of the family has spread out across the country making our gatherings less frequent.

I recently had the opportunity to visit my paternal grandparents, who just celebrated 71 years of marriage. It was a welcome opportunity to spend quality time alone with them. In that visit, they asked me so many questions about me and my family and genuinely wanted to know the answers. They responded to each answer I gave them with such love and warmth that I had no doubt they were really listening and taking in all I was saying.

At the conclusion of my visit, my grandma asked me to follow her into the other room. She asked me if I remembered the butterfly picture she had brought back from a trip to Africa. I certainly did! I have admired that particular memento since the day she brought it home in 1992. The picture is of two African women holding baskets on their heads and is created with butterfly wings.

I am sure I have told her hundreds of times over the years that one day I would love to have that picture in my home.

On that cold winter day, she took it off her wall and handed it to me.

I cried.

I was so overcome with the emotion of the day. I had felt so valued and so loved through our conversation and the picture was the icing on the cake. Every time I look at the picture above my desk I smile. It reminds me that my grandparents value me and love me. I know when I speak to them, they will listen.

However, being on the listening side of a conversation can be just as rewarding, if not more, than the talking side.

My mother’s parents just finished a one month stay in my city. I live in a warmer area of our state and they needed a little getaway. My 82-year-old grandma recently retired from the shop she has owned for almost thirty years. My 83-year-old grandpa still has a farm he runs.

They are the definition of hard work and are always on the go.

For them to drive 360 miles and leave their work and home behind was a big deal. Consequently, they got a little bored after a few days. They called me for ideas about what to do and where to go. I gave them as many as I could think of; one idea was to visit a local pioneer home. I offered to take them; they agreed. It ended up just being me and my grandparents. My grandpa asked that I drive his truck since I knew where I was going.


Habit 5: History Awakened

habit 5



The 20-minute drive to the pioneer house was fantastic! My grandpa would tell me about riding his bike around the neighborhood they were staying in and new trails he found to take his side by side bicycle on. We passed a man walking on the side of the road with a large backpack and my grandpa told me about his hitchhiking days when he was in the army.

While at the pioneer house we were introducing ourselves to the guides, and they told us they were from a little town in Canada. It turned out my grandpa’s ancestors were from the same town and they knew the same stories from the history of the town.

I was grateful to be there to listen to that exchange.

Later in the day I took my kids to the house they were renting, and we went for a side-by-side ride. I was teasing my son that going up and down the hills was better than any roller coaster we could go on. That reminded my grandpa about the first time (and last time, I might add) that he took his dad on a roller coaster. Through listening to him and asking questions about his experiences, I have come to know my grandpa better and love him even more. I was recalling some of the stories he told me to my aunt, and she told me that even she had not heard some of them.

By taking the time and opening the door for these conversations to happen, I have learned that when people feel valued, they will open up to you. Just like when you feel valued and really listened to, you are more willing to share your thoughts and feelings.

That’s what habit 5 is about. And that’s why this habit is so important to me and my family.

I have been working to apply these principles when conversing with my children. It is enlightening to hear what they have to say when I do slow down and actively listen to them. In addition, they are coming to me with issues they have because they are learning I will let them explain it all to me first before I ask if I can help in any way.

I am not perfect at it. I still get in a rush and want to jump straight into giving advice or answering their question without listening to the whole statement. I must remind myself to slow down, listen first, then give a genuine, calm, reflective response.

Who knew listening could be so involved? It’s sure worth all the work to feel like a million bucks when a conversation is over. I will do the work for that any day.

More Leadership at Home Activities


To learn more about leadership at home, check out:

Creating a Family Mission Statement: Begin With the End in Mind

Habit 3: A Family Exercise in Putting First Things First

Family Engagement in Schools: Leadership Skills Start at Home 

Synergy Saturdays: Practicing Habit 6 with the Family 

Habit 7: Why It’s Important to Remember to Sharpen the Saw 


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