My mother and I were on the phone. She was telling me about a difficulty she was having with someone else. It had her very upset. I was being a good daughter, or so I thought. However, I was about to learn a lesson about relator roles and my knee-jerk responses.
I could see the solution to her problem clearly. I began to give her step-by-step instructions on how to deal with this issue. As I spoke, she gave me very little feedback. I thought she didn’t understand. So, I broke the steps down. Instead of a-b-c, I went halfway through the alphabet. How clear could I be? She still wasn’t responding. I couldn’t see her face over the phone, but I could tell I wasn’t getting through.
So I changed tactics. I decided to take over. I would intervene and solve the problem for her. As I started to outline this new version of the solution, she snapped:
“Chrrrrrrrristine Ann,” she snarled my name. (As a side note, has a parent ever called you by your full first and middle name? What does that mean? To me, it meant that I was in trouble. It certainly got my attention. I stopped short.) “Christine Ann,” she repeated, “That’s not what I need from you right now!” I was stunned. What do you think she needed from me? It wasn’t instruction. It wasn’t action. I was clueless.
That was the day I discovered that there are different relator roles – different types of responses that are appropriate when people share their problems. She wanted me to simply listen. That episode made me think about my go-to responses and how I would just knee-jerk into one.
Now, I try to actively listen to someone sharing an issue to determine what his or her needs may be. Then I try to choose a response to suit the situation. You might want to think of this when an employee presents you with a problem. Don’t be knee-jerk about it!
As a trainer, learning is what I do best. I hope never to hear my name in that tone of voice again. Consider carefully and choose between these optional styles of responding to a person – employee, friend, or family member – who is sharing a problem with you:
- Advisor – tell the sharer how to fix the problem, “Here is what you should do.”
- Reassurer – give the sharer some encouragement like, “Don’t worry, it will be OK.”
- Agreer – buy into the sharer’s emotions by saying, “You’re right, I’d be mad too!”
- Doer – this style of responder wants to take control and do something about it on behalf of the sharer.
- Accepter – acknowledge and show understanding of the sharer’s feelings, but don’t try to change them.
And here’s a bonus! (Thank you, Jinoo, for the engaging conversation this week, and for bringing this up.) Ask the sharer what he or she would like from you. And then give him or her that. Practice listening to the needs of the person sharing an issue, and try to respond with a style that nourishes them. Don’t be a knee-jerk! You haven’t peaked yet!
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