Once upon a time there was a senior person in a highly successful global company whose job involved giving internal advice. He was technically brilliant and highly respected throughout the firm. Yet whenever he gave advice, things went sour. He couldn’t access his normal charming demeanour. And he didn’t understand why.
When he was asked a question, his first internal reaction was usually “this will need research to answer”, followed closely by “you expect me to know this already”. From the outset, he broke the golden rule of communication: never get defensive.
Empathise first. You need to match someone’s feelings before solving their problem. Don’t just go through the motions – “oh, that must be terrible for you; anyway…” – try to genuinely experience what they are feeling, and articulate that to them so they know you get it.
Don’t ask “Is it urgent?”. Of course our problems are urgent – to us. Ask “can you tell me more about it?” and you will get the information you need to make that judgement.