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Handling Tough Situations – The Empathetic Solution

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Professor Sandra Saucher discussed the impact of layoffs (workforce reductions) and the forces that are unleashed by all those affected as a result. What was most striking, but perhaps not surprising, was how nonchalant people can be about this until such a time as when they are actually on the receiving end themselves. Another interesting point that emerged was not around the merits of whether these should happen or not (sadly it’s inevitable at times), but more around the manner in which it is communicated.

empathyFor many there is no right way to tell somebody they are losing their job; so you just hit them with a “2 by 4” and hope for the best. Research would support that this is how most layoffs are conducted. According to Saucher’s research work, one of the key factors that emerged from interviewing people affected by lay-offs was how they were made to feel as though they had no self-worth. As if losing one’s job was not bad enough, very often self-esteem gets crush as well. Though often not the intent, it is typically the result. The key, she claims to addressing this, is one of understanding and applying empathy. It is critically important relative to this very difficult task that an empathetic message will serve to somewhat soften and maybe even positivity impact the outcome. How often have we heard people saying, “I hated getting the news but at least he said to my face and cared”. This makes a huge difference.

There are lessons to be learned here in our everyday interactions and the resultant tough situations we might find ourselves in. We may not be telling people that they are about to lose their job, but perhaps they have done something wrong, failed a test or performed poorly, and we simply pour gasoline on the fire by being judgmental, critical and uncaring. However by showing some empathy and really putting yourself in their shoes, you might in fact turn a negative into a real positive. As the saying goes, “there are no mistakes, they are only opportunities to learn”. Empathy serves as a very effective bridge builder to ensuring this happens.

About Bill Sex

Bill Sex is President of New England Coaching and specializes in supporting personal, professional and organizational advancement with specific emphasis on coaching skills, emotional intelligence and employee engagement / motivation.

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