Management Tactic #20: Relating to the Humans

Two years ago, I took a road trip across the rolling hills of England and Wales. Accompanying me were two female friends and my girlfriend. We made a good group.

After several days in the countryside, we arrived in London for the final leg of our trip. There, at the grossest hotel I’ve ever stayed at (rule of thumb: don’t ever stay at the cheapest hotel in any city), one of my friends received the news that her mother had severely broken her leg in a skiing accident. My friend’s reaction was swift and tearful: She would bump up her flight home to go to her mother as soon as possible.

Although I supported my friend by consoling her, hugging her, and telling her I’d miss her for the rest of the trip, I didn’t quite understand her decision. Her mother was half a world away; why not just stay for the rest of the trip (another 3 days) and fly home as scheduled? It wasn’t as if she personally could heal her mother’s leg.

You see, I can be a bit distant from emotions–both mine and those of others. I see the world in a very logical, orderly way. Supply and demand. Cause and effect. Practical, pragmatic. This is my default attitude toward employees: You come to work to get the job done. Leave your emotions at home.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that my employees and coworkers and friends and family simply can’t isolate emotions from the actions and decisions in their lives that can be impeded by those same emotions. They’re all part of the tangle of life.

My friend helped me understand this that day in London. After I really thought about her decision, I realized that there was no way she couldn’t go home immediately. She would have been completely distracted the next few days had she stayed. Sometimes, even though it doesn’t make logical sense, you have to drop everything and go be there for someone you care about. There is no other choice.

Logic and pragmatism have their place in business. But so do  compassion and emotions. As a manager, just because you can’t relate to your employees’ emotional needs doesn’t mean you can’t support them. Identifying and understanding their needs will enhance their ability (and motivate them) to identify and understand the needs of the business. It may be a stretch for you, just as it is for me, but trust me, it’s worth it.

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