A business owner tells me he does not wish to hear about his employees’ needs. He remarks that the business has needs and the employee’s job is to focus on those. This happens as we discuss noticing needs as one of the steps to conflict resolution and peace building.
How willing am I to hear more about this perspective and express empathy?
It strikes me that I approach comments like his with different degrees of empathy depending on the situation.
During mediation, the empathy part occurs more easily. As a neutral, I hold space for a variety of thoughts and ideas. Typically, folks in conflict struggle to understand each other’s perspectives. By taking time to acknowledge and understand each participant, I help the participants move the conversation forward.
Serving as a speaker in this situation, however, I acknowledge his statement, share my experience, and move on.
Knowing there is a reason the employer thinks and believes this way, it remains my choice in that instant whether or how much to explore this perspective.
The fact that I choose not to spend much time empathizing and fully exploring the boss’ statement during the presentation meets my own need for efficiency. Ironically, this may be the very need the boss seeks to meet in not wanting to hear about the employees’ needs. Not listening and acknowledging the employees’ needs may seem more efficient.
Experience tells me that in healthy families and organizations folks get to ask for what they need. Folks comfortably share what they need when part of a system that supports more open communication and dialogue with a process for handling disputes and resolving conflicts.
When employee needs are not acknowledged or addressed, issues often arise involving morale, productivity, relationships, and of course, the bottom line. These impacts may not be immediately visible, which may be part of the reason folks avoid addressing or understanding them.
Of course, you may choose from a variety of communication methods in any given situation. You may advise, inform, educate, empathize, tell stories, and so forth. While informing, educating, advising and storytelling serve a purpose, they may not connect as well as empathy. Taking time to acknowledge someone’s experience or perspective before delving into your own typically creates more connection.
This does not mean you must stay in the empathy zone for an entire conversation. You may get the sense when someone feels seen, heard, and understood.
Of course, you may not notice the long-term impact of your communication style immediately.
In not more fully exploring the boss’ comment, I miss an opportunity for modeling empathy for the sake of efficiency. Reflecting on my decision after the program, I remind myself of the importance of self-empathy. This means understanding the reasons for taking the path I chose and determining whether to choose the same one next time.
After all, the practice of peace takes practice.
As I invite folks to consider techniques to resolve conflicts and create peace in their businesses and organizations, each person resonates differently with each strategy. For this reason, I invite each person to focus on and commit to just one of the eleven steps to conflict resolution and peacebuilding at the conclusion of the program.
What step will you choose?
The path to peace begins within you and me.
Inner peace creates outer peace.
Personal peace leads to world peace.
What is your process for handling disputes and resolving conflict?
What happens when you seek to understand someone else’s perspective?
How do you feel when someone acknowledges your perspective?
What does empathy look like to you?
In what situations might you engage with more empathy?