I met the wife of a crew member for the first time at his funeral. When I introduced myself, I could tell she was glad I came.
Then I opened my mouth.
"Your husband was a great guy," I said. She nodded, sadly but also appreciatively.
Then I said, "There's no way we can ever replace him."
I meant well. I was trying to say he was a great person and a great team member. I was trying to say we would miss him, both professionally and personally. To her, though, it clearly sounded like I was more concerned about filling the opening.
I should have said, "I'm sorry for your loss. Your husband was a great guy. I will really miss him."
Relationship management, a core component of emotional intelligence, involves a number of skills. Motivating others. Mentoring others. Dealing effectively with conflict. Applying an occasional dose of tough love in pursuit of a positive outcome.
Yet it's easy to say things -- especially platitudes -- without realizing how they may affect other people.
Let's make sure that doesn't happen to you, especially if you tend to use the following phrases:
"I know exactly how you feel."
No, you don't. Even if you've been through a similar experience.
Besides, saying "I know how you feel" is what social psychologists call "conversational narcissism," shifting the focus of the conversation, however unintentionally, back on ourselves.
The better approach? Don't shift. Support. If someone says, "I'm so overwhelmed right now," don't talk about how busy you are.
While that might feel empathetic, since empathy involves putting yourself in the other person's shoes, it's not. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and think about what you would want: to be listened to.
Instead, say, "Ugh, that sucks. What's on your plate?" Or, "I'm sorry. What do you need to get done?"
Don't shift the focus to you, even if you mean well. Keep the focus on the other person. Ask questions that show you want to know more, and truly understand.
And, most important, listen.
Because that's what people going through difficult times really need.
"Everything happens for a reason."
Fate is only apparent in hindsight, because fate is what we make it. We can control only whether we do everything we can to make the best of what happens to and around us.
When something bad happens, though, the last thing most people want to hear is that "everything happens for a reason," because they haven't had time to overcome the problem and make it seem like a meaningful -- and maybe even integral -- part of their journey.
So don't reach for platitudes, however much you're tempted to cheer someone up by uncovering potential silver linings. Let the other person vent and rage and grieve.
And then, be there when they -- not you, they -- are ready to talk about ways to overcome whatever setback they've experienced.
You can try to lift them later. For now, just focus on support.
"With all due respect ... "
Even though Ricky Bobby feels differently, politely prefacing a statement doesn't soften the actual message.
As with the old saying, "Everything before 'but' is bull----," everything after "with all due respect" is what people really want to say.
They just hope you won't be upset when they say it.
"As I told you before ... "
Maybe you have said it before. Maybe multiple times.
Doesn't matter: Everything after "As I told you before" sounds like scolding, not advice.
And no one likes to be scolded.
If you feel the need to say it again, just say it again. Maybe this time the other person will listen. (Or maybe they won't because you're actually wrong.)
But they definitely won't listen when "I told you so" is part of the message.
"I know you'll disagree, but ... "
Like "Hear me out" or "Let me finish before you jump in," "I know you'll disagree" indicates you know there will at the very least be some back-and-forth.
But if you're trying to persuade, that's the wrong approach. In the book Pensées, the French polymath Blaise Pascal writes:
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.
Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.
In other words, find agreement first, because people are then more likely to listen to differences of opinion.
Say, "I was thinking about your proposal. I like the overall approach. I like the way you broke down each element. I like the call to action. It's great. What if we also added ... "
Start with agreement, and then talk about what might be improved. Your audience will be much more receptive.
In the process, you get to dole out a little praise and recognition, the one gift no one receives too often.