In training seminars, you’ve learned to acknowledge employees’ emotions. You know to say, “I see that you’re …,” and add “angry,” “concerned” or “hurt” to fit the situation.
Unfortunately, managers have overdosed on I-feel-your-pain statements. Frustrated employees wind up thinking, “I don’t care that you see that I’m upset. I want action!”
To empathize with your staff, don’t just affirm their emotions. Dig for more information to show that you take the issue seriously.
Follow up by saying “Tell me more” or “Please go on.” Even if you think speakers have said their piece, prod them to continue. That’s when workers reveal what’s really bugging them.
Also, continue to ask questions to indicate your high level of interest. Examples include, “How long have you felt this way?” and “How do you suggest we resolve this?”
If you sense that you cannot accommodate an employee’s request or address the issue in a manner that would meet the individual’s approval, go beyond empathetic comments (“This must be tough for you”) so that you shift perspectives. Say, “If I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way. But from my vantage point, I see other angles to this.”
After acknowledging someone’s emotions, you can build trust by revealing how you feel. Bonding over shared feelings (“I’m feeling upset, too, and a bit mystified”) enables you to connect with employees on a deeper level and lead them to broaden their understanding of the situation.