Monday, July 27, 2009


How many times did you get so mad at someone, wanting to burst, shout and tell the other person exactly what you think of him, but managed to hold back? It happens to me and I guess it happens to everyone else as well.
The thing is that the anger remains after we hold back. Many times it is still there and even if we settle down a bit, the problem was not really solved.

As adults and as managers we know that sometimes you just can't say everything to the other party. Sometimes you have to wait for the right time and, in some business circumstances, the right time might never come.

The challenge is tunneling anger, and other emotions coming of disagreement, to a productive place. The challenge is calming down.
Empathy is the ability to identify others' emotions and share those emotions. Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy deals with the emotional side of identifying others' hurt or joy. Empathy is the cognitive ability to understand and be aware of emotions the other is going through and as a result to sympathize.
Empathy can help us in several ways:

First, by understanding our employees, customers and other surrounding us, we become more relaxed and less angry. It helps us see the whole picture, and sometimes recognize ours is not the only just perspective. Even if we are certain of our position, understanding the other side weakens negative sentiments.
Second, by understanding we can improve our performance: If you understand why a potential customer is hesitant about getting a service, it will be easier to get into conversation and offer a better solution, and thus increase the chances of you becoming a preferred service provider. If you understand your subordinates, it will be easier for you to care for him, to avoid some crisis and to better handle other crisis.
Understanding, when used properly and not as a manipulative tool, improves our morality. The organization gains, but first of all we gain.
How can we be more empathic?
I will start by saying empathy is a personal characteristics from birth. Studies show some babies are empathic to other baby's (non-hunger related) cry. (See Hoffman's studies on the subject). Empathy, at some level, can be seen to exist in other mammals as well. However, it is also important to note that empathy can be acquired.
The first step is intent. We must really want to understand the other in order to succeed.
Other people, like us, are motivated by needs and values. If we are to understand their meaning, we must come up with several alternatives to needs and values that drive their actions / decisions / behavior. Analysis of these alternatives will bring us closer to understanding.
The last step has to do with our actions. After we understand what others are going through, we must decide what is the right management and ethical course of action. It is not always about canceling our previous decisions, but maybe the way we implement them, the tools that accompany them and yes, sometimes even changing the bottom line.
We must remember: empathy is a cognitive process, but it involves emotion.
And, unlike many other situations, in empathy there are no losers. Empathy is an all-winning game.
So let's be more empathic and gain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I have been invited last week to give a lecture at the Israeli accountant annual convention. This event was unique in its length – I had to make a continuous two-hour presentation. Some tine during the lecture I felt that I am not using my voice properly so I started pausing between sentences. Suddenly I understood the obvious: There are advantages to these pauses, other that relief to soar throat. I tried again and noticed that people are paying more attention. Silence echoes the spoken words and gives audience time to understand. I was reminded of my childhood swimming lessons. The instructor showed us four motions. The last one was a "no-motion", relaxing the body before the next set of motions; same as the silence effect.
Silence is a human and management tool. It amplifies the others' attention to our words, and improves their understanding. However, silence can serve other objectives as well.
When we are on the defensive, we prefer to keep silent. If we are not sure of our deeds, silence will prevent further complications. This is not always an adequate tool, and should be used with care, only when appropriate in a broad perspective, and not only from short-term considerations.
Silence enables listening to other people. Not only hearing, actually listening. If we are really silent, not just keeping our lips still, we can concentrate and listen to what is being said and more than that – how it is being said, what is the body language saying, what is not being said and why it is not spoken.
It is interesting to note that silence is an alternative to shouting. Roaring silence is heard in the distance.
What I find most fascinating is not the power in silence, nor the scream it replaces. It is silence as a means to get others to act that make it such a special tool.
It is claimed that sales people use this tool. When they feel the deal is close, and the customer hesitates, they will take out the contract, mark a small 'x' where a signature is required, turn the paper to the customer, and silently wait. Hard to believe, but most people will sign at this stage.
This technique can be used in other circumstances as well. By being silent, we invite the other side to act. Human nature makes it difficult (at least for most of us) to react to silence so everyone will try to act when the other is silent. The beauty of this tool is its fairness simplicity.
As managers, we must consider employees' silence. When an employee is expected to speak and keeps silent, what can we deduce?
First, all that was previously said is true about employees as well. It might be silence as alternative to shouting, it might be a way to better listen or be heard, and it might be an attempt to move us into action.
Nevertheless, we must consider other options as well. When an employee does not answer, he may have misunderstood what was said and too embarrassed to ask. We must analyze the silence and if this is reason, try a different explanation.
It might be that the employee disagrees with us and is reluctant to argue. I am not saying we should encourage employee resistance, but we must be aware of this option and assess the situation to decide if to accept this silence or try and break it.
And maybe they just had nothing to say and we are speculating to much…

Communication is 20% verbal and 80% non–verbal (body language, intonation etc.). In silence, we don't have even those first 20%.
We must try harder. But if we listen, there is a chance we will understand. When people are silent, they are saying a lot.
Silence is a powerful management tool, and we must learn to use it more. I am finishing now.
It is silence time.