Four people working together at a white office table

The Value of Understanding Others

Understanding others — their needs, desires, ambitions, and frustrations — isn’t easy. It takes “Emotional Intelligence” to truly take a step back, breathe deep, and really sympathize, empathize, and “get” the people around you. Emotional Intelligence, or “EI” is defined as: “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.” 

Now, as someone who fails to do just about all of those things on a daily basis, that sounds like the actual definition of the word “magician,” but we’ll go with Miriam Webster for the sake of this post.

But I’m not alone. When asked about conflict management, a majority of leaders will tell you this is one of the most difficult things they have to accept and address on a daily basis. 

The fact is, most leaders are laser-focused, practical, and “all about business” when addressing a problem, but executive coach, author, and CEO, Susan Steinbrecher reminds us that “55% of a message from sender to receiver is communicated via body language. 38% is conveyed by tone of voice. And only 7% is word choice.”

The Three Golden Rules For Understanding Others

Steinbrecher created a model that involves six basic steps and three golden rules for understanding others — especially as it relates to conflict resolution in the workplace.

Here’s how it works: Steinbrecher notes that in any dialogue, there are two fundamental needs that must be met – the ego need and the practical need. The ego needs are: to be listened to, valued, appreciated, empathized with, involved, and empowered. The practical need refers to the obvious: the reason for having the discussion and focusing on the conflict that needs to be resolved.

To address both needs, we simply need to employ the three golden rules of engagement:

  1. Listen and respond with empathy
  2. Be involved; ask for the other person’s opinions, ideas, and thoughts
  3. Maintain and affirm self-esteem

Sounds easy, right? Well, magicians make card tricks seem pretty simple, too, but I can’t tell you where that Ace of Spades went to save my life. The fact of the matter is, it takes focus, intentionality, and practice, practice, practice! 

The PRACTICAL need is pretty self-explanatory and intuitive, but more often than not, when conversations go awry, it’s because that EGO need hasn’t been properly met. That might sound like touchy-feely-emotional nonsense to some, but it really does matter!

The Six Steps For Understanding Others and Resolving Conflict

Check out the following Six Steps to Conflict Resolution, and see if you can put yourself in the place of the people in the examples:

1.  Discuss the situation in a respectful manner 

Example: “I noticed you’ve been late with the project targets a number of times this month, which seems out of character – you’re always so reliable!” 

Don’t say, “You are always late meeting deadlines.” This just gets the person’s defenses up.

 2. Be specific 

Saying “I noticed that on Tuesday the 15th — as well as Monday and Friday of last month — you were several hours late submitting your portion of the project brief,” the person realizes you are aware of the situation and that they have to address the issue. Then, their explanation and response is a perfect opportunity to listen and respond with empathy. 

Remember: you do not necessarily have to agree with someone to empathize with them. You are simply attempting to put yourself in that person’s shoes – if only for a moment – not condemning or condoning the behavior.

3. Discuss how a conflict (or problem) impacts you, the work group, or the project

“I am not sure you are aware of the full impact of the conflict between you and your team. The other associates are witnessing this, and it is making them uncomfortable…what do you feel is going on?”  Remember, you are asking not telling.

 4. Ask for the specific cause of the conflict 

“From your perspective, what is happening here?  You get along well with almost everyone here so what is causing the conflict?” Remember to empathize again after their response, rather than say, “Yes, but you’ve got to get along.” The word “but” negates everything positive you just said.

If you have to fall on a conjunction, pick the word “and.”  “Yes, I can imagine the challenge this presents – and we need to come up with a solution.  What ideas might you have?”

5.  Ask for the solution

For instance, “What do you think you need to do to help solve this situation? What is your next step?” This brings in accountability. 

6.  Agree on the action to be taken 

This step is often missed and it’s the most important one. Think of it as a recap. “So what I am hearing you say is that you are going to talk this through with your team members (discuss details). By when were you thinking of doing that?” 

That’s not easy, but it’s crucial when dealing with and understanding others. Communication is key.

Finding True Leaders In Your Organization

Finally, true leaders aren’t looking for robots to follow them; instead, they should try to develop individuals who are wholly connected to that leader’s vision and goals for the future. That said, everyone is different, and everyone has a unique perspective they can bring to a given situation. If you’re not using EI in your day-to-day relationships in the workplace, those differences can result in negative tension.

Some tension is good. Some conflicts can even be healthy. But if respect isn’t a part of that relationship… well, that’s when negative tension can break things apart.

As you are learning as a leader and trying to incorporate EI into your leadership toolkit, remember Steinbrecher’s model and golden rules but also focus on the truth that every person on earth deserves to have their own feelings and thoughts; everyone wants to be heard and understood; we are all the same, but uniquely different; even leaders need to be willing to compromise; and when conflicts are resolved, those milestones should be celebrated!

Listen, we’re all in this together, and if you are a leader worth following, you will start trying to understand that at a deeper level and begin coming alongside your people in more meaningful and effective ways. Practice, practice, practice. Pretty soon you’ll start to see that the Ace of Spades has been on the bottom of the deck the whole time!