by Rip Tilden
I’m a slow learner. I admit it. It only took me 20 years of marriage to learn that my wife doesn’t always need me to fix a problem. She just needs me to listen.
This was a tough lesson for me. If she had an issue at work or with a family member or whatever the case might be, I wanted to do the “guy thing” and fix the problem. I would immediately begin recommending what to do and how to do it to make the problem go away. This caused a lot of frustration on her end. She repeatedly had to sit me down and say very clearly, “I don’t need you to fix it. I just need you to listen.” I finally grasped that, at these times, she wasn’t coming to me for advice or action. She just wanted empathy.
Empathy is as important in business as it is in marriage. If you are a leader – whether a man or a woman – don’t check your empathy at the door to the office and assume that it has no place in a professional or corporate environment. It has a place because empathy is about people – including the people you work with.
So, when one of your employees or colleagues comes to you with an issue, you do not necessarily have to “fix the problem.” The person may simply require your empathy: they need you to listen to what is going on, understand how it is impacting them, reflect with them on what they are feeling, and acknowledge the validity of those feelings. Such active listening is empowering: it gives people the steadiness they need to solve their own problems and get the job done.
You don’t always need to fix problems. You do always need to listen to people.