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The Power of the Label

By |May 12, 2015

At a conference last week I was extolling the value of the label among other active listening skills. The next morning a participant told me he had taken what I said to heart and decided to try it, via email, with an employee.

The employee had sent him an email outlining his frustration over something going on back at the home office that was not to his liking. The participant began to respond to the email by (paraphrasing here) telling him to get over it and accomplish the task. Right before he hit send, he deleted what he had drafted and began the email anew with, “You sound frustrated that (fill in the blank) because it is preventing you from (fill in the blank). Do I have that right?” The employee responded with, “That’s right!” and then proceeded to lay out the entire story. The participant followed up this email with, “So, if I understand you correctly (fill in the blank) and as a result you are (appropriate emotion).” The employee was pleased that his boss had lent him an empathic ear/email and was able to come up with a solution to his conundrum.

People love to have others understand how they feel. Hanging a tentative label on an emotion heard, observed, or more importantly implied is the best way to demonstrate empathy. Empathy is the cognitive ability to discriminate affective cues in others and the ability to articulate those cues. It not only encourages reciprocity it allows them to become more receptive of others’ point of view, less defensive and clear. When listened to by others, individuals tend to listen to themselves more carefully and to evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings. In addition, they tend to become better problem solvers. They become less fearful of being criticized and are likely to appraise their situation realistically. Give them a label. If you are wrong they will tell you providing you with the opportunity to get it right. Remember, getting it right is not important. The attempt to get it right is what counts.

“One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider our problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.”—Dr. Elton Mayo

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