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Feb
16

I read an article today that hit a nerve. It was in an HR publication and it talked about how to find the right words to use in an awkward situation. Many of the steps I agreed with. For example, it suggests that you should be direct in a conversation, “be respectful, be empathetic, but get to the point…” It was one of the examples used where I took umbrage. The example they use of a direct, empathetic conversation that gets to the point is “I know you have a sick child but your work is falling behind.” There are two things wrong with this. First, “I know you have a sick child” is not empathy. Gary Harper, author of The Joy of Conflict, http://www.joyofconflict.com/ says “Empathy involves understanding and acknowledging another’s feelings. It flows when we attempt to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and identify with their feelings and perspective.” There is no identification with any feeling in this example, if anything it sounds cold and calloused and everything that an empathic reflection is not. Harper goes on to say, “We demonstrate empathy by reflecting the emotion we sense in another.  We don’t even have to be right; we just have to be genuine.” Do you think the person with the sick child feels genuine concern from the person saying it? This type of language will make them defensive and resentful. If you said this to me, my internal response would be “Are you saying my work is more important than my sick child?” By bringing these two thoughts together nobody is going to walk away feeling engaged or motivated to do better.

The second issue I have with this example is the use of the word “but”. Small words can have a big impact on how we think and they affect how we communicate and in turn how we are perceived. The word “but” is very divisive; it takes a thought and separates it into two. Most of the time the person you are speaking with does not even remember the first part of your statement and becomes fixated with what comes after the but…

 At work:

You are a great employee, but…

Your performance has improved significantly, but…

I know you are working hard, but…

I know you have a sick child, but…

At home:

You did a great job cutting the grass, but …

I love you, but …

You are a wonderful daughter, but…

There is a more powerful and inclusive word. It is the word “And”. Try it on the examples above and see how different it feels and how much easier it is to transition to the next thought. 

Let’s be perfectly clear that the work issues in the above example need to be addressed. By not addressing them, it may be creating more stress for the person with the sick child because he or she knows it is an issue, creating one more element of interference. A solution-based conversation can actually relieve stress, foster appreciation and strengthen commitment once it is addressed. In the above example I would “Pull” out how the other person is feeling and then reflect that back in a way that lets the employee know I understood their context. It is only after I have sought to understand where they are coming from, that I would seek their input on how to address the work issues that were manifesting.

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Brady Wilson

Brady Wilson

Co-Founder of Juice Inc, Thought Leader & Author

Alex Somos

Alex Somos

Co-Founder of Juice Inc.

Jean-Francois (JF) Hivon

Jean-Francois (JF) Hivon

Vice President, Business Development

Michael Torrie

Michael Torrie

Business Development, Juice USA

Juice Inc.

Juice Inc.

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Rick Boersma

Rick Boersma

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