I am conducting interviews for my doctoral research on how organizations handle crises and how leaders and followers can best navigate the turmoil into smoother waters. I am learning so much about how people perceive events and how their internal coding processes these events into outcomes. Although many of us are conflict avoidant, the fact is conflict is a healthy part of our daily existence. When done well, it can push us outside our comfort zone, enlighten us so we can actually change our minds, and allow us to reconstruct and restore what may be lacking in our lives.
One participant shared with me and acronym her mentor had given her. It was so powerful that she still had the sheet of paper which outlined the various letters prominently displayed in her cubicle. The acronym is HEAT: Hear, Empathize, Apologize, and Take Action. If you follow these four steps, you can prevent alienated followers, members, employees, friends, spouses, practically anyone at all.
Hearing is the active form of listening. Listening is passive. Plus, I can be looking directly at you and not hear a word you just said. Hearing allows the other person to vent, cry, share, disclose, unpack, you name it. We all have a need to be heard. Some of the greatest misunderstandings in history stemmed from the simple fact that an individual, or entity, felt they were shut down, cut off, or otherwise silenced, and never got to give input.
Empathize is that incredible personality trait that stems from our level of Agreeableness. It is essential to the individual to be heard, but it is equally important to be "felt." People with a high level of empathy are compassionate and able to pick up on emotional language. It shows you care which is supremely important because people don't care what you know until they know you care. In our rough and tumble, no-nonsense, get-er-done world of commerce, never underestimate the power of a velvet touch in hammering out and locking in change.
Apologize means you say, "I'm sorry this happened." It doesn't mean you are accepting ownership or blame, it just means that you are sorry whatever the person is going through happened. I say "I'm sorry" frequently. Invariably someone will cut me off with, "you don't have to apologize". I think to myself, "yes, I do." I am sorry that something happened and I am going to say so. We need to do this more often and allow others to tell it to us without cutting them off. It's not a sign of weakness or blame, it's a sign of acknowledgment and camaraderie.
Take Action means just that. You lay out the expectation of what is going to happen next to bring the temperature from boiling back to pleasant. This is such a crucial step. It's beautiful to be heard and to feel that someone gets you, but if there's no, "and here's what's going to happen next," then I feel like I've just wasted my time and you are placating me. Do something--anything--but don't leave the person without telling them what action is going to transpire and when.
Life is volatile enough without us making it worse. Remember these four steps when the HEAT is on, and you can return your organizational or personal climate from blazing to balmy and from charring to comfy with a refreshing breeze.