Curt Fowler.

Curt Fowler.

“Good! You see it differently.”– Stephen R. Covey

The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts – and it should be. That is what Covey is trying to get us to understand about the 6th habit – Synergize.

To synergize we must be independent. We do this by mastering the first three habits – be proactive, begin with the end in mind and put first things first. Then, we must enter all discussions thinking win/win and seeking first to understand, then to be understood.

When we stand on top of the first five habits, we have an opportunity to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. We can enter into a discussion where someone thinks completely differently than we do and honestly say, “Good! You see it differently.” We can expect that there is a “third alternative” that will be better than either alternative first presented.

Synergistic solutions are built on trust and appreciation. We must be trustworthy. Being trustworthy requires authenticity. True authenticity requires us to “go first” with our doubts and fears.

Only as we throw our insecurities out to the world, will the world become comfortable throwing out theirs. As we share our hopes, dreams, desires and fears we begin to relate to each other on a higher level and we begin to appreciate each other more as well.

Many times, an individual’s actions and attitudes do not lead you to appreciate them. But as we learn more about them the walls start to come down. We can begin to see them as they are – God’s masterpiece – only in a beaten-up shell.

Then we can have this attitude as we interact – “If a person of your intelligence and competence and commitment disagrees with me, then there must be something to your disagreement that I do not understand, and I need to understand it. You have a perspective, a frame of reference I need to look at.”

We learn very little from people that agree with us. We can learn much from those who disagree with us if we will “seek first to understand.”

The goal of synergistic communication is to find the “third way,” the “higher way” that is greater than either of the alternatives we could come up with on our own.

Covey gives a great example of a husband who has a family fishing trip completely planned out and ready to go. The deposit is made. He and his boys have been taking fishing lessons and everyone is very excited. But his mother-in-law’s health has deteriorated. His wife wants to cancel the fishing trip and spend time with her mother.

The husband doesn’t understand why visiting her mom cannot wait. Aren’t he and their sons supposed to be her highest priority?

The wife cannot understand why anyone would prioritize a fishing trip over caring for an ailing parent that might not be with them much longer.

The couple could split up. He goes fishing with the boys and she goes to visit her mother and they would both be feeling guilty and unhappy. Either side could cave to the wishes of the other. Whatever compromise they agree to could be rehearsed as evidence of insensitivity, neglect or worse over the years – creating a wedge between the husband and wife that might continue to grow.

Or… they could seek a third alternative. They could work to understand why each feels the way they do. Then, they’d start finding options. They could look at their individual needs and try to find a solution. There must be a fishing spot near where her mother lives. It wouldn’t be as nice, but that solution would meet more of their shared needs than splitting up. And, the cousins could come out to the lake too!

By leaning on habits one through five, the couple can find a solution that builds their relationship rather than tearing it down.

This stuff is not easy. In the heat of the moment, I never remember any of the habits! But, if we can slow down and reflect on what we learned in the earlier habits, a better, “higher” way can usually be found.

If you are ready to get started creating more clarity and meaning in your organization and life, check out our free resources at

As always, you can reach me at 229.244.1559 if I can help in any way.

Curt Fowler is President of Fowler & Company and Director at Fowler, Holley, Rambo & Stalvey. He is dedicated to helping leaders build great organizations and better lives for themselves and the people they lead.  

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