A while back I wrote to you about what to say in difficult situations. This can be especially dicey in the workplace. If you think it doesn´t matter what people-colleagues-say to one another during hard times, think again. Knowing that your peers will understand when life´s tough can go a long way. Knowing that your boss will understand is priceless and that can mean the difference between quality output and less than par performance. The more understanding we can be toward our colleagues, up and down the ladder, the greater chance our companies have of enjoying continued success. That means sometimes covering for your boss, your colleague, or someone who reports to you. It might mean putting in more time than you´re accustomed to. If that becomes too taxing, because what should have been a temporary situation turns into something more long term, then certainly steps need to be taken to correct the situation. But generally speaking, giving one another some breaks here and there should be a part of the corporate landscape.
In her very excellent book, How to Say It When You Don´t Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times, Robbie Miller Kaplan gives us the words (and intentions) we need to help colleagues and others in our lives get through the darker days in life. Here´s part one of a discussion with the author.
LGL: In your very comprehensive book about finding the right words for difficult times, you seem to have covered every possible situation. Do you think these situations really seep into the workplace or do people for the most part keep them separated, within the confines of their personal lives?
RMK: We really can´t avoid it; each day we hear about the difficult experiences that coworkers, colleagues, senior staff members, customers, and others we interact with face. It is true that some people keep their problems to themselves, but sometimes it is impossible to do this. We hear about losses and at other times, we must provide coverage as individuals take time off for medical appointments, personal business, and other arrangements.
LGL: Sometimes people underestimate the skills needed to listen effectively. How can people really become good listeners? Does it take practice or is it just something that comes naturally?
RMK: Listening is a skill and just like any skill, it takes practice to become proficient. But it is a valuable skill to acquire and one that is truly a gift we can give to those facing tough times. Many individuals need to vent; to share their stories and in the telling, either find solutions themselves or an outlet for their stress. And often, individuals must tell their story over and over again to make sense of it. But, most of us would rather talk then listen. When listening, it is important to understand that this is not about you, the listener, but about the speaker. When you share your personal problems or re-tell a story about a similar difficulty that you´ve heard or read about, you diminish what the speaker is sharing. No one feels better knowing that someone else has it worse. A good listener focuses on the speaker, maintains eye contact, nods and gestures when appropriate.
Next time: another conversation with Robbie Miller Kaplan