Relating Not Reacting

Shawnee Love   •   July 30, 2020

Sometimes, telling the truth is hurtful.  Doctors have to tell people they are sick. Or if they don’t make changes to their behaviour, they will become sick.

Similarly, managers have to tell people they are not performing. Or if they don’t make changes to their conduct, they will receive discipline.

These are expected behaviours of managers (and doctors). While these messages must be delivered, how they deliver those messages are crucial.

Most importantly, they must be delivered empathetically and clearly to ensure no misunderstanding. That requires checking to ensure the person understands not only what was said, but the intent behind it.

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the person trying to get their message across to ensure it is understood. At the same time, the listener/ reader has a responsibility to ensure they understand correctly in effective communication as well.

While I know these lessons (and you probably do too), I am talking about them again, because so many people are near their wits end right now and that is having a significant impact on interpersonal communication.  Months of fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID have created extreme stress and led to low thresholds for empathy and patience in even the most tolerant people I know. That reality coupled with doing everything over phone or video and wearing masks has created endless opportunities for misunderstanding and misinterpretation not to mention lowered trust between people, including those we are interacting with.

This is all anecdotal, but in my opinion, we are in troubled times interpersonally.

I use the boiled frog analogy to describe our current situation.  We have all been experiencing the heat gradually increasing, and we are starting to overheat.

Worse, we don’t have perspective to recognize it happening nor do most people have the support or, in some cases, opportunity to turn down the heat.

I don’t know how to help globally. But I do know to protect our relationships at work, we need to:

-Try to avoid reacting to initial perceptions.  We are all a little sensitive right now, so take the time to consider what else might be going on and look for the most respectful intent.

-Ask and listen until you understand rather than assuming or telling.

-Seek tools, resources and help before you think you need them because if you are living and working currently, you probably already do need them.

-Find ways to give each other GRACE & SPACE (in all the nuances those words imply).

And most of all, to come together in our teams to get through these challenges. Managers and leaders, this is probably not in your job descriptions, but people need you to model the way.