Empathy: When People Get Emotional
When People Get Emotional
Henry Ford once said, “How come when I want a pair of hands I get a human being as well?” Do you ever feel that way? Just when you think things are going well, someone gets all upset. If that person’s problem was something that could kill the project, you would get upset, too, but so many times it is some dinky little thing that gets blown out of proportion.
Have you ever had a bad day? How about a bad week? Have you ever had a bad year? Often, when we get upset, there is a whole lot more to the story than the thing that got us upset. The question is, what do we do about people’s feelings when we want to get work done?
Some of us would say, “Don’t worry about it, it will go away in time.” Others might get upset, too and join in, escalating the problem and making it worse. Then, there are those who will tell you, “It’s against the rules to get upset, we don’t do that here.”
Regardless of how you feel about the problem, it is real to the other person. If you dismiss it, you invalidate the other person and create a barrier. Feelings are real. If a person says, “I feel sad,” it is inappropriate to respond with, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” The fact is, the feeling of sadness is a genuine feeling for that person.
Here is the challenge. People will never become robots. They do have emotions and if we cannot work with them, we are not going to get the results we want. Some people don’t see this as a problem because they just naturally have fabulous interpersonal skills. Without even trying, they know when to talk, what to say and when to be quiet. They even remember people’s names and birthdays. However, many of us have difficulty with this. We simply don’t know what to do. For example, a senior executive we know said, “How come people tell me I am cold and uncaring when I know that is totally untrue?” Our initial response was, “It is not that you are cold and uncaring, it is that you come across as cold and uncaring.” Being a logical person, he worked on figuring this out by observing what empathetic people do in business situations when emotions pop up. We will share with you what he learned.
The executive reviewed a recent business setback. His boss had criticized him and he was upset because he felt it was unfair. He did not know what to do so he went to a trusted friend’s office, closed the door, and vented. In a short time, he calmed down and felt better. Thinking back and replaying the conversation, he realized what his friend did and why it worked. The friend responded to what he said with words like, “oh, wow, and humm.” These words provided a response without taking a position, and the way they were spoken indicated that the friend was listening. The problem did not get solved right then, but his feelings were acknowledged. Once his feelings were acknowledged the emotions started to dissipate and the executive could deal logically with the problem…..
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