The Tipping List
Four ways to keep others focused in turbulent times
By: Steven Gaffney
People become stressed and unfocused for all sorts of reasons – organizational changes, job changes, personal issues and even world events. When this happens, how do you keep others focused and, at the same time, support them? Being open with them about what needs to be accomplished and allowing them to be honest with you is the key. So, how do you do that?
Here are four key steps:
1. Allow others to express their emotions. Expressing emotion is a great way for people to begin to free themselves from their built-up feelings – especially stress, worry, fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, many people encourage others not to express emotion by saying such things as “Check your emotions at the door” or “Don’t show emotion” or “Keep your feelings inside.” This is similar to putting a lid on a pot of boiling water. Eventually it will boil over, and when it does, it will be a mess. The more we allow others to express their emotions in an appropriate way, the more likely it is that their emotions will dissipate. In this way, they will be able to refocus on what needs to be accomplished.
2. Acknowledge other people’s emotions. Once someone expresses an emotion, acknowledge it. We can do so by saying something like, “I understand you are upset” (or stressed or annoyed). Try to avoid saying something like, “I understand you are upset, but…” The but makes someone feel invalidated. Saying “Don’t get upset” or “Don’t worry” has the same effect. In fact, when we tell someone to “not feel” a certain way, it can have the opposite effect and make them even more emotional, because they then feel invalidated. Instead, the more we acknowledge another person’s emotions, the more likely it is that their emotions will be diffused, and then we can begin to help them address the issue.
3. Ask how you can support them. Often people know what they need to feel supported. Problems occur when we don’t ask what they need or, worse, when we give them advice they have not asked for. If you do ask how to assist or support someone and they say they don’t know, they often mean, “I am afraid to ask you for help.” If that happens, ask the question again and assure the person you really want to help. When they tell you what they need, work out an agreement that’s suitable for both of you. The key is to be proactive and to ask them first. You may be surprised to find out that all they wanted you to do was to listen.
4. Constantly remind them of the big picture and goals. This crucial step helps by putting the immediate problem in context, so they can refocus. When people are upset, they tend to overly concentrate on the present and forget their future goals. By reminding others what they are working toward and where they are going, they will be more likely to move beyond the present and achieve what they originally set out to accomplish.
This is an excerpt from Steven Gaffney’s book Honesty Works! Real-World Solutions to Common Problems at Work & Home. Steven is the leader of the ASK REAL GUYS team. He has been in the trenches, conducting communication seminars for Fortune 500 companies for more than 14 years and has helped thousands of people save their relationships and marriages, and reshape their lives.