It happens to me often. I am speaking with one of my team and I see an expression on their face that looks like anger, sadness, frustration, impatience, or some other strong emotion that doesn’t quite fit the situation.
In the past – if I even noticed these things at all – I did nothing. Just a typical unperceptive male, perhaps, or maybe just too mission-focused to care much about how others felt. This was an opportunity lost on my part. I know that now.
As I have become a better leader, doing everything I can to support the needs of those on the team as they work towards their goals, I have learned the power of listening. Part of listening is watching people’s reactions as we speak about things. What do you do if you encounter anger, frustration, or another unexpected reaction? What you do is simply ask about the feeling. Then listen.
“Hey Johanna, you seem to look angry when we talk about that person. What’s going on?”
“Hey Mark, you don’t seem very happy that I am asking you for the details on this. How come? Do you think I am out of line?”
“Arnold, the look on your face says major frustration, while your voice says it is no big deal. Sup?”
Even if you get the emotion wrong, it’s good to ask the question. For instance, if it was not anger but rather embarrassment about a situation that caused the reaction, the things people say when you ask them about their feelings are often some of the most insightful things you will ever hear when coaching your staff. In asking these questions, I have uncovered some of the most important things imaginable.
Two examples come to mind. One was discovering a case of bullying by a co-worker that I was subsequently able to deal with. The other was discovering that someone’s major problems outside of work were at the root of a performance problem. I had asked directly if there were any problems outside of work and the answer was no, but when I asked why they were so upset about a simple work issue, the truth came out and I was able to truly understand the situation.
When you see a strong emotional reaction, stop the discussion, and ask the person about it. You will often learn things you otherwise wouldn’t, and you will also be showing how much you truly care.