Feelings count… to employees they count as much as wages & hours…
The cubes of two supervisors, Randy and Alice, were right outside my office door, and I could hear every word they spoke above a whisper when my door was open. It became an interesting study in effective – and non-effective – communication….
My attention was captured by a strained voice I heard in Alice’s cube one day as an employee explained that his child had been ill for several weeks. Alice responded with a kindly-worded explanation of how important it is at these times to ensure our work performance stays strong so our paychecks are steady to support any health complications. The employee returned several times to more details of the child’s situation as Alice tried to steer the conversation to the performance issue at hand. The employee seemed stuck in the personal trauma and could not move forward. I shut my door.
A few days later I saw Randy’s head above his cube, and I knew he was moving to stand next to the employee sitting across his desk. I heard him say, “That kind of fright with your family must have you very distracted here at work; how are you coping?” Then he sat back down to listen. After the employee admitted to difficulty focusing, Randy agreed and quickly summarized the poor realities of the employee’s recent performance. He then asked if the employee had thought of a plan to help get through the next weeks as the family situation was worked out. I don’t know if the plan was prepared or made one up at that moment, but I was impressed that the conversation turned quickly to a solution-oriented collaboration instead of the push-pull struggle Alice had faced.
I reflected on Randy’s tactic more that afternoon as I heard another short interaction. “So would you like to be part of that project, Jeff?” Jeff’s response was a slowly drawn-out, “Yeeess, I think so.” Randy described his perception: “You sound hesitant, are you sure?” With sudden enthusiasm, Jeff confirmed his desire and explained his mind had wandered to ideas that might work for the assignment. I was struck by the way Randy addressed the feelings of his employees while also moving them forward to the practical matters at hand.
Reality: When we ignore the emotions we see in others, they can go underground and cause irreparable damage when discovered later. Listen to hear both the facts and the feelings; when you hear feelings, ask about them. Usually the person will clarify your inaccurate assumptions, appreciate that you care and move on to work matters more quickly.
- Repeating key information confirms that you’ve gotten the facts and saves time wasted by the person stating them repeatedly in an effort to confirm you hear.
- Avoid the typical trap we fall into when we hear emotion in the workplace: we get busy convincing the person that they should not feel the way we assume they feel:
- While thinking, “I am not sure I can get a sitter for the extra hours,” aloud Sam thoughtfully stated, “I’m not sure I can do that.”
- Chuck assumed Sam didn’t feel confident in his work and responded with a detailed tirade about the great results Sam had produced and the positive reputation he had.
- After clarifying the meaning Chuck thought he heard, the time was more effectively used to address schedule adjustments.
- Stating the emotion you think you hear can open the door to clarifying barriers: “You sound hesitant”; “I hope you are proud of that”; “You must be confused”; “You seem angry about this”; “Are you surprised with that result?”
- After naming an emotion, STOP, and let them explain. Often their clarity will put the issue on the table, closer to a solution: “Yes, I’m angry that this is the third time I’ve been asked to do this, and no one else on the team seems willing to help carry the load.” OR “No, I’m not at all hesitant about doing it, there are just lots of details to consider; can you help me with those?”
- Confirming feelings in a conversation often allows the emotional person to move on to the work issue after they are confident their feelings are heard.
- Remember that listening to how someone feels does not obligate you to agree that they should or should not feel that way.