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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families
Building a Beautiful Family Culture in a Turbulent World
By Stephen R. Covey
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Stephen R. Covey
All rights reserved.
You're Going to Be "Off Track" 90 Percent of the Time. So What?
Good families — even great families — are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the "track" looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again.
It's like the flight of an airplane. Before the plane takes off, the pilots have a flight plan. They know exactly where they're going and start off in accordance with their plan. But during the course of the flight, wind, rain, turbulence, air traffic, human error, and other factors act upon that plane. They move it slightly in different directions so that most of the time that plane is not even on the prescribed flight path! Throughout the entire trip there are slight deviations from the flight plan. Weather systems or unusually heavy air traffic may even cause major deviations. But barring anything too major, the plane will arrive at its destination.
Now how does that happen? During the flight, the pilots receive constant feedback. They receive information from instruments that read the environment, from control towers, from other airplanes — even sometimes from the stars. And based on that feedback, they make adjustments so that time and time again, they keep returning to the flight plan.
The hope lies not in the deviations but in the vision, the plan, and the ability to get back on track.
The flight of that airplane is, I believe, the ideal metaphor for family life. With regard to our families, it doesn't make any difference if we are off target or even if our family is a mess. The hope lies in the vision and in the plan and in the courage to keep coming back time and time again.
Sean (our son):
In general, I'd say that our family had as many fights as other families when we were growing up. We had our share of problems, too. But I am convinced that it was the ability to renew, to apologize, and to start again that made our family relationships strong.
On our family trips, for example, Dad would have all these plans for us to get up at 5:00 A.M., have breakfast, and get ready to be on the road by 8:00. The problem was that when the day arrived, we'd all be sleeping in and no one wanted to help. Dad would lose his temper. When we'd finally get off, about twelve hours after the time we were supposed to go, no one would even want to talk to Dad because he was so mad.
But what I remember the most is that Dad always apologized. Always. And it was a humbling thing to see him apologize for losing his temper — especially when you knew deep inside that you were one of the ones who had provoked him.
As I look back, I think what made the difference in our family was that both Mom and Dad would always keep coming back, keep trying — even when we were goofing off, even when it seemed that all their new plans and systems for family meetings and family goals and family chores were never going to work.
As you can see, our family is no exception. I'm no exception. I want to affirm at the very outset that whatever your situation — even if you are having many difficulties, problems, and setbacks — there is tremendous hope in moving toward your destination. The key is in having a destination, a flight plan, and a compass.
The key is in having a destination, a flight plan, and a compass.
This metaphor of the airplane will be used continuously throughout this book to communicate a sense of hope and excitement around the whole idea of building a beautiful family culture.
The Three Purposes of This Book
My desire in writing this book is to help you keep this sense of hope first and foremost in your mind and heart, and to help you develop these three things that will help you and your family stay on track: a destination, a flight plan, and a compass.
1. A clear vision of your destination. I realize that you come to this book with a unique family situation and unique needs. You may be struggling to keep your marriage together or to rebuild it. Or you may already have a good marriage but want a great one — one that is deeply satisfying and fulfilling. You may be a single parent and feel overwhelmed by the relentless crush of demands and pressures put upon you. You may be struggling with a wayward child or a rebellious teenager who is under the control of a gang or drugs or some other negative influence in society. You may be trying to blend two families together who "couldn't care less."
Perhaps you want your children to do their jobs and their homework cheerfully, without being reminded. Or you're feeling challenged trying to fulfill combined (and apparently conflicting) roles in your family life, such as parent, judge, jury, jailer, and friend. Or you're bouncing back and forth between strictness and permissiveness, not knowing how to discipline.
You may be struggling simply to make ends meet. You may be "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Your economic worries may almost overwhelm you and consume all your time and your emotions so that there is hardly anything left for relationships. You may have two or more jobs, and you and your loved ones just pass one another like ships in the night. The idea of a beautiful family culture may seem ever so remote.
It could be that the feeling and spirit in your family is contentious, that you have people quarreling, fighting, yelling, screaming, demanding, snarling, sniping, sneering, blaming, criticizing, walking out, slamming doors, ignoring, withdrawing, or whatever. It could be that some older kids won't even come home, that there seems to be no natural affection left. It could be that the feeling in your marriage has died or is dying, or that you're feeling empty and alone. Or it could be that you're working your heart out to make everything nice, and nothing seems to improve. You're exhausted, and you have a sense of futility and "what's the use?"
Or you may be a grandparent who cares deeply but doesn't know how to help without making things worse. Perhaps your relationship with a son or daughter-in-law has become soured, and there's nothing but surface politeness and a deep cold war inside, which occasionally erupts into a hot one. It could be that you've been a victim of abuse for many years — in your upbringing or in your marriage — and you're desirous and determined to stop that cycle, but you can't seem to find any pattern or example to follow and keep falling back into the same tendencies and practices you abhor. Or it could be you're a couple that wants desperately to have children but can't, and you feel the sweetness in your marriage beginning to slip away.
You may even be experiencing a combination of many of these stresses, and you have no sense of hope at all. Whatever your situation, it is vitally important that you do not compare your family to any other family. No one will ever know the full reality of your situation, and until you feel that they do, their advice is worthless. Similarly, you will never know the full reality of another family or another person's family situation. Our common tendency is to project our own situation onto others and try to prescribe what is right for them. But what we see on the surface is usually only the tip of the iceberg. Many people think that other families are just about perfect while theirs is falling apart. Yet every family has its challenges, its own bag of rocks.
The wonderful thing is that vision is greater than baggage. This means that a sense of what you can envision for the future — a better situation, a better state of being — is more powerful than whatever ugliness has accumulated in the past or whatever situation you are confronting in the present.
So I would like to share with you the way that families throughout the world have created a sense of shared vision and values through the development of a "family mission statement." I'll show you how you can develop such a statement and how it will unify and strengthen your family. A family mission statement can become your family's unique "destination," and the values it contains will represent your guidelines.
The vision of a better, more effective family will probably start with you. But to make it work well, others in the family must also feel involved. They must help to form it — or at least understand it and buy into it. And the reason is simple. Have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle or seen someone doing one? How important is it that you have the final scene in mind? How important is it that all who are working on it have the same final scene in mind? Without a sense of shared vision, people would be using different criteria to make their decisions, and the result would be total confusion.
The idea is to create a vision that is shared by everyone in the family. When your destination is clear, you can keep coming back to the flight plan time and time again. In fact, the journey is really part of the destination. They are inseparably connected. How you travel is as important as where you arrive.
2. A flight plan. It's also vital that you have a flight plan based on the principles that will enable you to arrive at your destination. Let me share with you a story to illustrate.
I have a dear friend who once shared with me his deep concern over a son he described as being "rebellious," "disturbing," and "an ingrate."
"Stephen, I don't know what to do," he said. "It's gotten to the point where if I come into the room to watch television with my son, he turns it off and walks out. I've tried my best to reach him, but it's just beyond me."
At the time I was teaching some university classes around the 7 Habits. I said, "Why don't you come with me to my class right now? We're going to be talking about Habit 5 — how to listen empathically to another person before you attempt to explain yourself. My guess is that your son may not feel understood."
"I already understand him," he replied. "And I can see problems he's going to have if he doesn't listen to me."
"Let me suggest that you assume you know nothing about your son. Just start with a clean slate. Listen to him without any moral evaluation or judgment. Come to class and learn how to do this and how to listen within his frame of reference."
So he came. Thinking he understood after just one class, he went to his son and said, "I need to listen to you. I probably don't understand you, and I want to."
His son replied, "You have never understood me — ever!" And with that, he walked out.
The following day my friend said, "Stephen, it didn't work. I made such an effort, and this is how he treated me! I felt like saying, 'You idiot! Don't you realize what I've done and what I'm trying to do now?' I really don't know if there's any hope."
I said, "He's testing your sincerity. And what did he find out? He found out you don't really want to understand him. You want him to shape up."
"He should, the little whippersnapper!" he replied. "He knows full well what he's doing to mess things up."
I replied, "Look at the spirit inside you now. You're angry and frustrated and full of judgments. Do you think you can use some surface-level listening technique with your son and get him to open up? Do you think it's possible for you to talk to him or even look at him without somehow communicating all those negative things you're feeling deep inside? You've got to do much more private work inside your own mind and heart. You'll eventually learn to love him unconditionally just the way he is rather than withholding your love until he shapes up. On the way, you'll learn to listen within his frame of reference and, if necessary, apologize for your judgments and past mistakes or do whatever it takes."
My friend caught the message. He could see that he had been trying to practice the technique at the surface but was not dealing with what would produce the power to practice it sincerely and consistently, regardless of the outcome.
So he returned to class for more learning and began to work on his feelings and motives. He soon started to sense a new attitude within himself. His feelings about his son turned more tender and sensitive and open.
He finally said, "I'm ready. I'm going to try it again."
I said, "He'll test your sincerity again."
"It's all right, Stephen," he replied. "At this point I feel as if he could reject every overture I make, and it would be all right. I would just keep making them because it's the right thing to do, and he's worth it."
That night he sat down with his son and said, "I know you feel as though I haven't tried to understand you, but I want you to know that I am trying and will continue to try."
Again, the boy coldly replied, "You have never understood me." He stood up and started to walk out, but just as he reached the door, my friend said to his son, "Before you leave, I want to say that I'm really sorry for the way I embarrassed you in front of your friends the other night."
His son whipped around and said, "You have no idea how much that embarrassed me!" His eyes began to fill with tears.
"Stephen," he said to me later, "all the training and encouragement you gave me did not even begin to have the impact of that moment when I saw my son begin to tear up. I had no idea that he even cared, that he was that vulnerable. For the first time I really wanted to listen."
And he did. The boy gradually began to open up. They talked until midnight, and when his wife came in and said, "It's time for bed," his son quickly replied, "We want to talk, don't we, Dad?" They continued to talk into the early morning hours.
The next day in the hallway of my office building, my friend, with tears in his eyes, said, "Stephen, I found my son again."
As my friend discovered, there are certain fundamental principles that govern in all human interactions, and living in harmony with those principles or natural laws is absolutely essential for quality family life. In this situation, for example, the principle my friend had been violating was the basic principle of respect. The son also violated it. But this father's choice to live in harmony with that principle — to try to genuinely and empathically listen to and understand his son — dramatically changed the entire situation. You change one element in any chemical formula and everything changes.
Exercising the principle of respect and being able to genuinely and empathically listen to another human being are among the habits of highly effective people in any walk of life. Can you imagine a truly effective individual who would not respect and honor others or who would not deeply listen and understand? Incidentally, that is how you can tell if you have found a principle that is truly universal(meaning that it applies everywhere), timeless (meaning that it applies at any time), and self-evident (meaning that arguing against it is patently foolish, such as arguing that you could build a strong long-term relationship without respect). Just imagine the absurdity of trying to live its opposite.
The 7 Habits are based on universal, timeless, and self-evident principles that are just as true in the world of human relations as the law of gravity is in the physical world. These principles ultimately govern in all of life. They have been part of successful individuals, families, organizations, and civilizations throughout time. These habits are not tricks or techniques. They're not quick fixes. They're not a bunch of practices or "to do" lists. They are habits — established patterns of thinking and doing things — that all successful families have in common.
There are certain fundamental principles that govern in all human interactions, and living in harmony with those principles or natural laws is absolutely essential for quality family life.
The violation of these principles virtually guarantees failure in family or other interdependent situations. As Leo Tolstoy observed in his epic novel Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Whether we're talking about a two-parent or a single-parent family, whether there are ten children or none, whether there has been a history of neglect and abuse or a legacy of love and faith, the fact is that happy families have certain constant characteristics. And these characteristics are contained in the 7 Habits.
One of the other significant principles my friend learned in this situation concerns the very nature of change itself — the reality that all true and lasting change occurs from the inside out. In other words, instead of trying to change the situation or his son, he went to work on himself. And it was his own deep interior work that eventually created change in the circumstance and in his son.
Excerpted from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen R. Covey. Copyright © 2014 Stephen R. Covey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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