Body Language 44 Comfort

September 7, 2019

We have all played the role of comforter at times in our lives. There are a number of body language considerations as we perform this important function.

The first rule when trying to comfort another person is to put on your figurative “listening hat.” Keep your ears open and your mouth shut.

Listen more than talk

It is annoying for a hurting person to get a few sentences into describing her pain only to hear, “Oh I have experienced that as well; my aunt did that to me just last month.”

If you are to provide comfort, try to have your output to input ratio be something closer to 10%, at least until the person has had the opportunity to tell the full story.

Use reflective listening where you let the other person know you are following the points closely with your following skills and an occasional natural reflection to indicate your understanding.

There is a caveat here. Most people believe they use reflective listening well, but they are actually clumsy with too many or poorly-timed reflections. Rather than help, poor listening actually makes matters worse by annoying the other person.

Touching

Touching the other person is often a way to provide some comfort, but obviously there are a host of caveats about using that technique. You have to use judgment and consider whether the other person would rather not be touched.

One possible way to analyze the situation is a derivative from the Golden Rule. Would you want to be touched by the other person if the roles were reversed? This idea is far from bullet proof, but it may provide some insight.

Touching may be effective with family or very close friends, but be extremely conservative with touching in a professional setting. Basically, don’t do it if you want to be safe.

Also, observe the overall body language as you approach the hurting person. If the individual pulls back, even in a slight way, it would be better to not use the comfort of touch, at least at that particular time.

Don’t preach

This is not a time for the comforter to spout out platitudes of what might seem helpful to him or her. That kind of advice may be appropriate at some future time, but when the individual is hurting, he or she is in no mood for a sermon.

Seek to understand and empathize

By listening intently and asking questions, you can get the idea of what is causing the problem, but it is best if the hurting person comes up with what to do about it. Sometimes in an effort to be helpful, people will become prescriptive, and that often comes across as being pushy. It is better to ask occasional questions for clarification.

Ask open ended questions

Try to avoid asking a question that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, if you ask “Has this happened to you more than once in the past week?” the person could just say “yes.” Instead ask, “How often have you experienced this, and what did it feel like?”

Let the other person “come to you”

It is obvious that the other person needs some comfort, and since you are there it is only natural to try and help. Let the other person come to you when he or she is ready for your help.

Playing the role of comforter is essential, and we have all done it at times. Recognize that to do this task successfully requires great tact and skill. Take your cues from the person who is hurting, and let that person have the floor most of the time.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Few Employee Surveys Work

January 30, 2011

We have all been exposed to an employee satisfaction survey at some point in our working lives. For some of us, the idea of filling out yet another QWL (Quality of Work Life) survey is not nearly as appealing as having a root canal. I have witnessed a significant hit to morale in many groups as a result of these attempts by management to gather information. Let’s examine why employee surveys cause problems and suggest some antidotes that can make a big difference.

1. Questionable anonymity – Nearly all QWL surveys are advertised by managers as being anonymous. This is to encourage people to share information without fear of repercussion. Unfortunately, nearly all surveys these days are conducted electronically. Most people are aware that anything online can be traced, if a smart IT technician is assigned to the case. People simply do not believe the promise of anonymity, which lowers the validity of the data. One way to give slightly more confidence in the integrity of the process is to include a statement such as this at the end of the form, “You do not have to type your name on this survey because it is anonymous. We will pay no attention to who you are if you do not sign the document. However, some people do wish to be contacted personally to give further input that might not be adequately covered on the survey. For that reason, there is a line to give your name if you wish. Someone will get back to you.”

Of course, no statement by management is going to convince the die-hard skeptics, but this explanation will assist most people. Another action that can help is to have a shop floor person (perhaps a known skeptic) participate in the data analysis phase, so he or she can verify personally that the managers do not know who said what.

If you claim anonymity but are quietly keeping track on the side out of curiosity, then there is no hope for you, and you should get out of the leadership occupation immediately.

2. Poorly worded questions – many managers believe that putting together a survey is a simple matter of writing a few questions about how people feel. Actually, survey design is a rather complex and exacting science. There are numerous ways to present questions that will yield meaningless (or at least ambiguous) information. There are also some methods that will generally produce usable data. The cure for this problem is to have someone who is trained on survey questions actually construct the instrument. If you have not had at least one course in experimental research design, then it is best to leave the matter to someone who has.

3. Long and tedious survey – It is not uncommon for QWL surveys to contain over 100 detailed questions. It is amazing that the designers of these surveys do not realize the obvious fatigue factor involved in completing one of these burdensome questionnaires. A much more accurate reading can be obtained by keeping the number of questions to 20 or less. This can be accomplished by paying attention and only asking important questions. Leaving out the fluff can cut the time to take a survey by more than half.

4. Management interprets the information as they please – It is frustrating to witness how managers wave away complaints or gripes on surveys as simple whining. Or they might shrug their shoulders and say, “there is absolutely nothing we can do about this issue,” so they consider the input as moot. The antidote here is to not ignore input regardless of how painful it is or how frivolous it seems. All input needs to be considered valid and not assumed away with some convenient rationalization.

5. “Nothing ever changes” – This is a common theme on the shop floor. “We take these stupid surveys, but nothing ever changes.” The antidote to this habitual problem is to actually take concrete actions based on the survey, then (and this is the part most managers forget) advertise that the changes are being made as a result of the QWL survey. Rather than saying, “We are going to add a second brief afternoon break,” say “As a result of your input in the recent survey, we are changing the break rules to allow a short second break in the afternoon. As always, we appreciate your candid feedback.” If managers do not make a conscious effort to communicate that changes are the result of input, people will usually not make the connection. Once a change is made and it becomes habit, people forget that there was a change, so the perception of “nothing ever changes” is common.

6. Managers try to react but do the wrong thing – It is far better to let the shop floor people be involved in decisions of how to improve conditions based on survey results. It may take a little more time, but the quality of process changes will be far better if those impacted the most have a say in their invention. They will make the changes work rather than wonder and push back at the clueless inventions of upper management. It is better to have workers inside the tent piddling out, than outside the tent piddling in.

7. Managers reacting to the vocal minority rather than the silent majority – This problem is common when surveys give the opportunity for open-ended comments. People on the fringe can give strong input, and managers might mistakenly interpret this to be the will of the majority. The simple antidote to this problem is to verify that a strong message really does come from several individuals rather than one highly disgruntled outlier.

8. Survey not tested for validity – For a survey to be useful, it needs to measure the phenomena it purports to measure. There are statistical techniques for determining if an instrument has validity. You may not have the time or money to invest in a professional survey designer to test the validity of an instrument, but at least you should ask the question of whether you are actually getting valid information.

9. No thought to reliability – The reliability of a survey is different from validity. For a survey to be reliable, it should produce a similar result if repeated and there have been no changes in processes since the last survey was taken. If survey results are all over the map when nothing in the environment in changing, it is a sign that the instrument is not reliable (repeatable).

10. Poorly communicated – When surveys are sent out, the cover letter explaining the purpose and process is a critical document. Many managers have an administration person whip out a paragraph of “management speak” like this. “It is vital that we know what people in our operation think in order to continually improve working conditions. Please take the time to fill out this anonymous survey that will give us the information. Thank you.” Here is a different note where the manager took the time to set up the survey for success.

“We are going to re-do our strategic plan, and it is important to include your input before making changes. The attached survey will begin the process. Before you take this survey, please reflect on the following points:
• The survey really is anonymous – we will have shop floor people help with the analysis to verify no names are attached to the data.
• We will summarize the data for you as soon as it is received.
• We will use the information as the basis for a series of meetings (you are invited to participate) on how this business can be improved.
• We will be making changes based on the results of this survey.
• We are all part of making this organization a success.”

With an introduction like that, employees will know this survey will likely have some impact and their viewpoints matter. It is critical to not waste credibility, time, and energy on a poorly designed and administered QWL survey. If the above 10 points are considered when designing an employee survey, it will produce results that can be the basis of solid organizational progress.


Socratic Struggles

April 29, 2010

The Socratic Method uses a series of questions designed as a discovery process for the person who is being questioned. The technique is often used in educational venues to help students learn critical thinking skills. I believe the application of the Socratic Method at work can be a powerful tool if used carefully. It can also backfire if used poorly or with a heavy hand.

An example of a work situation where the so-called Socratic Method might come in handy is a situation where you want to advocate a specific course of action to a superior but you expect significant pushback. Let’s picture a situation where you are trying to convince your reluctant boss to approve some off site training which includes travel for you.

The straightforward approach is to: explain the benefits of the training, advocate why this will be helpful to the organization, and ask for permission to travel to the seminar. However, based on your knowledge of the boss in previous encounters, you suspect that he is going to turn you down flat regardless of the promised benefits. In this case, advocating a course of action and arguing your case will likely produce a negative response. Furthermore, once the boss has said no, subsequent attempts to change his mind will only be an annoyance. You are likely to hear “What part of NO didn’t you understand?”

Using the Socratic Method means asking the boss questions about his satisfaction with how things currently are. You now stand a better chance of getting a reaction you can then build, with additional questions, into a stream of thought. Continuing to ask leading questions rather than advocating a position allows the boss to discover some of his own thought patterns that can be consistent with what you would have advocated in the first place.

Perhaps your final question in the series might sound like this. “I wonder how, I might be able to get the skills to do what you’re suggesting”? After a few seconds of thought, The boss might reply, “Well, you could get some training and bring those skills back to our group.” You might then reply, “That’s a great idea! Would it be okay if I looked into some training options to accomplish that”? Note that you are now in a position to praise the intelligent boss for suggesting something you wanted to do all along. You get what you want, and the boss is your hero rather than a tight-fisted curmudgeon.

Now the boss has mentally committed to having you get some training because the idea was generated by his brain rather than yours. When you come back the next day with a specific proposal to get the training, you’re far more likely to have the boss agree to the expenditure than if you had simply advocated the benefits of doing it yourself.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article there is a huge caveat to applying the Socratic Method. It is because the technique is fundamentally manipulative in nature. You have an idea what you are trying to get the boss to verbalize, and you keep asking questions that direct the conversation toward that end. If you are not extremely deft at posing this string of questions, the boss may become highly annoyed and suspicious that you have an ulterior motive for asking your open ended questions. If this is the case, you may be doing more harm than good. Socratic questions must be used with great skill. Let’s examine six categories of Socratic questions and suggest a method of application that may help you be successful.

Below is a list showing six different types of Socratic Questions as outlined in a Wikipedia entry. I think this handy guide is useful because it provides different avenues of logic, so the questions don’t all begin to sound the same.

1. Questions of clarification:

To prompt others to explore their questions and prove basic concepts and ideas of arguments Examples: What examples can you provide? What do you mean by…?

2. Questions that probe assumptions:

To query others’ beliefs concerning their arguments. Examples: How did you arrive at those assumptions? What if we looked at it this way?

3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence:

To delve deeper into supporting claims others use for their arguments. Examples: How do you know this? What is the cause? Can the evidence be refuted? How?

4. Questions that probe perspective:

To have others query their viewpoints or perspectives; they attempt to look at the argument from another perspective. Examples: What is another way of looking at this? What are strengths and weaknesses of your perspective?

5. Questions that probe consequences:

 
To identify consequences and determine if they are desirable; use as others develop arguments and logical consequences become foreseeable. Examples: If we follow your argument, what are the consequences? Are the consequences desirable?

6. Questioning the question:

 
To probe the intent of asking the original question. Examples: Why did you ask the question? To what point are you driving?

A best practice for applying these questions is to mix up the type of question as the conversation unfolds. By applying the specific type of question naturally as the discussion proceeds, it seems more expected and less manipulative.

If your true intent is to naively probe the thoughts that are under the surface in the other person’s head, you can gently guide the conversation without detection. In other words, do not try to corner a person into saying something that he or she does not really want to advocate. That is true manipulation, which will invariably backfire. Instead, by using the Socratic Method, help guide the discussion so the person first sees the true benefits from his or her own perspective. The person then becomes an advocate instead of a roadblock.

It occurs to me that using the Socratic Method can be helpful, but it requires skill and practice to apply it successfully in the real world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_questioning