A few weeks ago, a client forwarded an email from another department in their organization that had previously received criticism for being a bit cranky on email messages. This time, the email started with:
I hope you are having a great day today.
The remainder of the email was just as cranky as all the others messages I’d seen from them before.
It isn’t hard to guess at what happened. Someone probably received well-deserved criticism for cranky emails and decided to do something. A well-intended line of thinking might have gone like this: “Hey, we need to fix this problem fast. Hmmm…I know! Let’s tell everyone that they need to say something nice at the start of all emails.”
The result was jarring in print. The claim at the beginning was completely incongruent with the message. It would have been better if the writer had skipped the attempt all together.
The “solution” addressed the symptom, not the problem.
Of course, I’ve been guilty of this myself. I’ve spent years teaching listening skills in training classes and workshops. For the most part, these workshops have focused on the practical tools of listening: eye contact, facial expressions, being able to repeat back to the other person what was said, etc., etc.
All of the above are pretty good tools and help people appear as though they are listening better. Yet, I’ve sometimes failed to emphasize the central point:
The real way to demonstrate caring is to actually care.
If you want to see this in action, spend a few minutes observing a couple interact that have just fallen in love. They don’t need to be reminded to say something nice at the start of the conversation, or to make eye contact, or to listen well.
You’ll see something not all that different if you observe someone during their first week of a new job. Chances are they do pretty good job of listening, starting new relationships with a smile, and work hard to meet some initial objectives.
In both situations, people care a lot.
The problem for most of us isn’t that we don’t know how to care. In fact, most of us are masters at caring under the right conditions and circumstances.
Most of us just don’t prioritize caring. We assume that we’ve done enough already and that a bit of automation around caring will take care of most of the ongoing stuff.
If you, like me, suspect you fall into this trap too, here’s a flowchart with three questions you can ask yourself to help bring clarity on what to do:
Invest genuine attitude and effort in caring about the people you want to care about and avoid faking it with those you don’t.