Communication Lessons from a Reality TV Show Connoisseur

reality tv and listening with empathyIn recent years, I have become a reality show connoisseur. After a long day at work, I enjoy watching something mindless. It’s like a study in human behavior. Since I am a dedicated watcher, I have been able to identify a pattern. It goes like this: 

Step 1: Place people who barely know each other in contrived social situations and wait for them to inevitably say something which offends another member of the group. 

Step 2: Watch as the aggrieved person voices his or her anger and hurt to everybody but the person who did the hurting.

Step 3: Put the group in more social situations so that the upset person can finally confront the offender, who will defend him/herself using every possible rationale to justify the behavior. 

Step 4: Among the defensive behaviors, the offender may utter a half apology which basically places the blame on the hurt person; something like “I’m sorry if you felt like I hurt your feelings.” 

Step 5: The offender will finally declare that s/he simply wants to put all of this unpleasantness in the past and move forward. 

Step 6: Declaration or not, the hurt remains and continues to be a topic of discussion for multiple episodes (and sometimes, multiple years). 

I want to reach through the TV, shake them by their shoulders, and tell them that unless they allow the other person to be upset and accept his or her feelings as they are (without judgement), the problem will not go away. And the relationship will not improve. 

“If only they had L.E.T. skills,” I thought to myself. At the same time, I began to see a similar  pattern playing out in the reality show that is my work life.  

Senior leadership delivered news that my role would be undergoing a major change in the near future. This change was the third “upheaval” I had experienced in the course of a year, so it was starting to become overwhelming and stressful. Once I started to feel like I had things under control, the next big thing would come. There was too much uncertainty. 

I decided to express my frustration to my leadership team. “I know that you plan to change my role and responsibilities. I’m concerned because I’ve put many months of work into my current project and I am going to be removed from it just before it’s set to deploy. I won’t get to see my work executed or experience the outcome of my research, design and development,” I said. I made my case respectfully, but vehemently. 

My leadership advised me, “We’re in a difficult time right now with the pandemic. It’s really just a budgeting decision. I know you struggle with change. I’m sorry if you don’t think this is a good direction. We really just need to accept this decision and go forward.”

Wait, what? Did they just “reality show” me? Blame something else – check! Blame me for feeling upset – check! Tell me to move on – check! 

Are we really at a point when we no longer know how to empathize with and acknowledge a person’s feelings? We simply have to hold it in for the sake of “moving forward?” 

What if my leaders had not used Roadblocks, but instead used Active Listening to show me that they accept my feelings and empathize with my situation? “I can see you’re frustrated with this change in direction and concerned that you won’t get to see your hard work executed, since we’re moving you to a different project.” 

And then, what if we had all Shifted Gears in order to discuss our needs and used Method III to come to a “No Lose” solution? “I need to use your expertise on a new upcoming project and it seems like you need to ensure your current project concludes successfully. What are some potential solutions that would meet all of our needs?” 

I know I would have felt better about the change. I would have been able to “move forward,” because we did the work, not just because we declared it was time. 

“If only everyone had L.E.T. skills…”

Learn more about L.E.T.