Many conflicts in business arise because of misunderstandings between different people. Companies don’t understand what consumers want. Management misinterprets what employees say and vice versa. This is not a theory or off-hand observation – it is a fact of life.
Misunderstanding often produces results that one party in the arrangement does not like. And unfortunately, very frequently, insults are thrown around. For example, consumers rail about “incompetent” customer service. The service representative gets angry dealing with “stupid” customers. Management is upset about “lazy” employees. Employees, on their part, spend their time gossiping about “clueless” managers.
Everybody thinks that the other party “just doesn’t get it”. The ironic part is that no one ever thinks that they could be making a mistake. Everyone thinks that they are doing the best they can, but they are held back by the vices of others.
I believe that many of these problems would solve themselves if each person had the following thought process:
- I am going to assume that the person(s) I am interacting with has my best interests at heart.
- If that is the case, why is he or she behaving like this or producing results like this?
- Is it because of something I have told them? Or is it the way I interact with them?
- Is it because I haven’t communicated something to them?
- Why don’t I tell them what I want completely and clearly, instead of having them guess it for themselves?
- How can I ask them or tell them something in the most pleasant manner? How about “please” and “thank you”?
- If I ever have to interact with them again, how do I leave this transaction with the most goodwill?
- What do they think of me?
It is always better to attribute the most charitable reason to someone’s behavior instead of automatically assuming the worst. In the past, to my regret, I have done the opposite at time, and almost always, found that the problems were due to miscommunication rather than purposeful bad conduct. It is quite difficult to rebuild trust after such incidents.
Promoting empathy is not only useful in business, but also in every aspect of life – personal relationships (family, friends, relatives), community life, politics, etc. Yes, sometimes, the other person may be actually wrong. But very likely not and, unless there are extenuating circumstances, it is better to be careful than ruin relationships and interactions with other people.