As usual, It Starts With An Innocent Tweet
Answering questions of clients & people in Q&A is often more about showing understanding first before giving a technical answer.
— Dan Shure (@dan_shure) June 20, 2012
Working so much with clients and in the Moz Q&A lately, I’d really gotten to thinking just how important this above tweet is at doing an exceptional job. Not just a good job – an exceptional one. One where you not only answer the question but leave the person feeling like you really understand their unique position, and not only that, give them an awesome experience with the Moz Q&A.
The tweet got a decent reaction on Twitter from people like Neil (@AudienceCreator) - thus I’m feeling that folks might like an elaboration on this concept and practical tips for applying it.
What’s The 5th Habit?
“Seek First To Understand Before Being Understood”
In Stephen Covey’s masterpiece, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wikipedia page - the 5th Habit ”Seek First To Understand Before Being Understood” is a three step process:
- empathetic listening to the other person
- making the other person feel understood
- and then only when you’re sure they feel understood, you explain your side
Because it is only when the other person feels understood, will they open up and listen to what you have to say.
In SEO terms – you will GIVE your best advice after listening with empathy and this advise will also be more received because the other person is ready to hear it.
Using My 2 Hour Commute to Learn the 7 Habits
Waaaayy back in 2007, I was driving 60+ minutes (each way) to work for my Dad, 4 days a week, against Boston traffic.
I’d stop at the local library and get audio books to make best use of the time driving. I’m a non-fiction guy, so it’s how I first heard “The Tipping Point”, “Made To Stick”, “The 80/20 Principle” and so many other phenomenal books.
The one that changed everything was The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.
Reading the 7 Habits, it wasn’t so much me going “ohhh that’s new” but rather the 7 Habits reaffirmed and organized (eloquently I might add) many “truths” of human nature I’d believed for years. People mistake it for just another “self-help” or “business management” book when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Covey gives you practical tools for incoprating these principles into everyday life – and (shocker) making them habits.
I am NOT saying I’m a master at these habits at all – in fact I fail more often than succeed at it. They are a lifelong practice.
How Does the 5th Habit Apply To SEO?
That’s the beauty of universal truths. They can apply to anything if you know how to attach the abstract concept to the tangible situation. The 5th Habit applies to SEO in the following three ways;
- Communicating with clients
- Answering questions in Q&A’s
- Helping (or as Wil Reynolds would call it – Stalking)
These are the ways it has applied personally to my daily SEO activities – but they can certainly apply to things like working with a team in a company.
The whole idea of the 5th Habit was also on my mind because of THIS fantastic article by Brad Feld “The Power of TAGFEE and Just Executing” In particular this quote by Rand:
“…there’s a missing “H” in TAGFEE. For humility. In fact, empathy and humility in potential hires are the best predictors that they’re going to fit with our team and be TAGFEE.”
- Rand Fishkin
Well said indeed!
Number of Followers as a “Helpfulness Metric”
I consider my follower growth to be akin to a “helpfulness scale”.
This is NOT a bragging metric. Its NOT EVEN a metric you should measure for “success” in social media in any normal circumstance.
The point is to show the results of steady, consistent listening, helping and understanding.
This is with very little in person networking. Its mostly due to connecting with people on Twitter, helping people when they need it, going above and beyond in Q&A, producing content I truly hope helps others, and trying to help others by sharing their content.
How To Practice The Skill of Making Others Feel Understood
Let’s stop right here before I continue. SO many people approach life, link building, marriage, school with “tricks”. What quick trick can I use to get what *I* want? THIS IS NOT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE. You have to have the real desire to practice something so much it becomes a habit. YOU have to have the desire to understand others – and simply use this as a method to practice your skills.
K… now that that’s out of the way
I’m going completely from memory here, and adding my own insights.
The Listening Part
- As you listen to the other person (or read) avoid preparing your own response in your head. How often when someone is talking are you prepping your own response and forgotten to pay attention to the person speaking? How often have you skimmed a blog post or Q&A question or email without really taking the time to understand it before jumping down to add your comment?
- As you read or listen – try to actually visualize whatever the person is describing – colors, shapes, movements (this actually helps me pay attention).
- As you listen – try to actually feel the emotions that person is feeling. Start with simple positive or negative. Is it a good or bad emotion? Then get more detailed. Is it fearful or anxious? Excited or hopeful?
- Don’t interrupt unless its to ask a question to get clarification. Remember, the goal is to make the other person first feel understood. How often do you feel understood when being interrupted?
Making the Person Feel Understood
1. First – you attempt to explain back to them what they just told you.
- When you do this (VERY IMPORTANT) use facts and emotions. In other words, if someone says, “I’m so worried because my rankings have dropped badly in the last week” and you say “I understand your rankings have gotten worse” you missed the emotion. You have to get both, and say something like “You’re really stressed and concerned that you’re rankings have seemed to inexplicably dropped”. Feeling understood is just as much about the emotions as the facts.
- Reword what they have said back into your own words. If someone says “I’m so upset” and you say “you’re upset” this isn’t showing you’ve really internalized what they’ve said. Replace their words with something that shows you’ve reflected on it like “you’re unhappy” or “you’re feeling sad”.
2. Keep listening and echoing what they say until its 100% clear they understand
- Again – this is NOT a “trick” or quick win. You really have to truly know and feel what the other person is saying.
- Usually you can get a sense when someone feels understood either by asking them or they’ll tell you.
Only Give SEO Advice Once They’ve Felt Understood
- This relates back to my tweet. I suggest to only give technical advice after you’ve given an indication you understand. So obviously in a Q&A, without instant feedback, do the best you can to do steps one and two – in a few brief sentences – then give the technical advise.
- Answering questions is as much about easing emotions as answering the question. There’s ALWAYS an emotional need behind every question.
- Apply this to a call or meeting with a client by agreeing with yourself to NOT jump in and speak/give advise before you’re SURE they feel like you understand where they’re coming from. This may only mean an extra 3-5 minutes up front. We’re not talking necessarily hours here.
- One of the best parts about all of this? YOU’LL ACTUALLY ALSO GIVE BETTER ADVISE BECAUSE YOU’VE LISTENED.
For even more explanation, check out this video – Covey talks about the “Indian Talking Stick” and how this relates to the 5th Habit and empathetic listening.
The beauty is, this can be practiced anywhere, with anyone, at anytime. And SHOULD be!! You don’t need a panicked client with tanked rankings to try this out on.
Was This Really About SEO?
Grreeeat question. No, it was not about the latest link building trick or duplicate content or the latest black and white animal to wreak havoc on the dotted line in your analytics profile.
So no, I didn’t teach you anything “new” about SEO here. But as much as I LOVE learning techniques, tools and tactics as the next person – I think we often MISS these timeless elements of human nature that just might be part of the hidden energy and force behind all the metrics.
TRY listening with empathy, repeating back what you’ve heard and making others feel understood. This can do AMAZING things.