By Romano, Stephen J.
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin , Vol. 71, No. 9
The amount of time managers spend on investigating and resolving work-related personnel problems can be staggering. These problems run the gamut from equal employment opportunity complaints, job performance issues, and personality conflicts to lack of productivity and negative attitudes. Regardless of the problem, the end result, the mission, always suffers. In a majority of instances, these personnel problems share a common thread--poor or no communication between managers and employees. Managers significantly can minimize personnel problems and create a productive and harmonious work environment by using effective communication techniques.
People communicate on two levels: content (the story) and emotion (the feelings). The story (facts and circumstances) constitutes the objective part of communication. On the other hand, the feelings (meaning/significance) people have about their story count most. How people feel about a situation strongly affects their behavior. Therefore, if managers can identify and control emotions, they are in a better position to influence other people's behavior.
While conflict cannot always be resolved, it can be managed. To this end, managers can use a process of maintaining self-control, understanding their employees, and using active listening skills to change employee behavior.
People generally agree that it is not what happens to someone in life that counts but how that person reacts to what happens that matters most. Life stressors can be overwhelming at times and may affect the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Emotions, not reason, may control a person's behavior. A stressed person may be under the influence of one or more emotions, such as anger, fear, frustration, or depression. If people feel that they have a problem, they do. The manager's challenge is to restore the employee's emotional equilibrium.
The only aspect of an interaction that people have absolute control over is their own emotions. Therefore, when confronted with a difficult employee, managers must understand that the first step is not to control the person's behavior but to control their own. If they cannot control themselves, they cannot control the situation. Managers must gauge their own pulse and honestly appraise themselves. Are they emotionally prepared to effectively interact with the employee at that moment? If not, it is far better for them and the employee to reschedule the meeting if possible.
UNDERSTANDING THE EMPLOYEE
Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said, "seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication." (1) He further advised, "if you withhold judgements and conclusions long enough to hear the person out and listen to his story, you will gain a better sense of what his needs may be and, thereby, how he may be influenced." (2)
Managers must be good listeners. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective, concession they can make to their employees. It gives employees "a hearing" and lets them ventilate. Above all, people want to be understood. Their desire to be understood is as powerful as their need to have their own way. Managers can demonstrate respect by giving an employee their undivided attention. They should eliminate interruptions and distractions by closing the office door and holding phone calls. They also should create a personal and relaxed environment by moving from behind their desks to a more comfortable seating arrangement that avoids a superior-subordinate position. Overall, managers must demonstrate empathy to their employees and satisfy their needs.
Good listeners demonstrate empathy, the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person and to walk in another person's shoes. Empathy absorbs tension. Empathic statements, such as "I can understand how you would be upset over. …