Picture this. You are a manager. One of your subordinates, John, accuses you of playing favorites–giving more opportunities for development and promotion to one person and intentionally ignoring the one making the accusation. You absolutely believe the accusation is baseless due to a misunderstanding of workflow and skill sets.
What would be your usual response? Explain? Pull the, “I’m the authority here, I do what I think is right” card? Silence and an eye roll? I imagine most of us choose the explain option. If feels right that we should clarify the misunderstanding.
Why is explaining wrong?
Let me clarify. Explaining isn’t necessarily a sin (though it could be). Surprisingly it rarely helps the situation when offered first. Why is this?
- Pointing out the facts as you see them almost always sounds like a defense
- Defenses (AKA explanations) rarely address the root concern of the other leaving them feeling unheard
A better way
Contrary to our natural tendency to defend against an attack, the best strategy is to validate the concerns of the other. If the employee is concerned they are getting passed over (and you can imagine they have been feeling this for a long while when they finally speak it to you), your explanation of the facts does NOTHING to address their concerns. A loving, Spirit-empowered response will take to heart their fears. “John, I bet you’ve been feeling this for some time. It is important to me that I hear and understand what you are feeling. I do not want you having the impression that you are not valued. I would be happy to explain why Lisa got the new position and how I see your future here. Can we set a time to talk about this tomorrow?”
One of the reasons we don’t validate others first is that we fear our own view of the facts will be swallowed up in the opinions of others. In addition we fear that validation will be heard as agreement. Be wary of these feelings. In fact, when you give the accuser the chance to state their concerns/case first (and do so in a way that they feel heard), your own views are much more likely to be heard.
Now, if only I could employ this technique with better success (on my part) with my teenaged boys! If you don’t know already, such a simple technique of validation requires a massive dose of humility and self-sacrificial love. You cannot do this in your own strength!