Three Ways To Win With Empathy

Inspirational Leadership Requires Both Thought And Feeling

by Michael D. Hume, M.S.

Ever get into an argument, and feel like you’re spinning your wheels in deep sand? You make your points, based on facts you know to be true, but you just can’t get through to the other person. He keeps repeating himself. The debate gets circular. Nothing gets solved, but frustration mounts on both sides.

Many of my clients want to be more inspirational as leaders, but suffer in that quest because too many of their interactions with teammates degrade from dialogue to debate… and frustrating debate, at that. Whether you own a business or have a leadership role in running the business, you know that no one is inspired by such arguments. So here are three suggestions for leaders who’d rather skip the debate and interact in dialogue.

First, try listening… and not just your normal “decent” way of capturing the other person’s points, but super-listening and proving you “get it.” Much of what turns dialogue to debate is a feeling on either side (or both sides) that you haven’t been heard. That’s what makes people want to repeat their familiar points, over and over, to the point of frustration. So try this: ask the person to lay out their argument one more time, and listen as though you agree with them. See if you don’t hear more with that mindset than you did when you listened with the mindset of disagreement. For one thing, when you “put on” the agreement costume, you might get some insight as to why the other person believes what she does – and why she’s so passionate about it. When you debate, you purposely avoid feelings and stick to facts… but dialogue doesn’t work that way. See if you can’t listen differently with a different mindset, and then lay out the other person’s argument in reflection, including what you learned not just about his facts, but why he feels the way he does.

Make provocative statements. Sometimes you can “shock” the discussion out of an unproductive pattern with a statement like “I definitely hear the passion in your voice” or “you clearly feel strongly about this.” If you can accompany them with inviting, friendly non-verbals, you can make even more provocative statements, like “you seem angry with me” or “I think I’ve offended you.” Statements like these can backfire, so be careful… but often, they invite the other person to soften their argument, and perhaps to come back to a mode of dialogue.

Ask questions others won’t ask. Don’t just ask about the facts… make sure to ask about the person, and their feelings, with questions like “Why do you feel so strongly about this?” or “What’s bothering you about what I said?” Again, most people won’t ask about the relationship, but doing so might shock the pattern of the discussion: “Do you think you and I can find a middle ground?” or “Are you OK with the way this talk is going?”

There are many other things you can try to replace debates with dialogues, and you might want to engage a good leadership coach (I can help you, for instance). And these three ideas are not “magic bullets,” but rather techniques that need, as do all new key skills, study and practice. If these won’t work with that argumentative person on your team, what do you think will? Think it over, and try something new. Don’t let your team’s inspiration (and performance) get frozen in intellectualism and frustrating debate. Performance requires action… action needs motivation… and, at the end of the day, nobody’s motivated by debate, regardless of who “wins.”

 

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