Written by Fingal Pollock
“I hear you” – in whichever vocabulary you choose to express it – is one of the most valuable phrases known to humankind.
The essence of that phrase acts as a balm on human relationships and it is certainly the first and most essential step in any communication involving complaints or disputes.
But first, a story:
I was in a fluster because I had been caught out making a mistake. I hadn’t checked my emails properly and I had got the time of an important meeting wrong. It’s very unusual for me to make such errors, however there were several major life-events happening simultaneously and even time-management superstars such as myself can slip up sometimes. Because I was embarrassed, I was getting defensive. “It’s the only time it’s ever happened” I was complaining down the phone.
It was an example of how a potentially disruptive dispute can plant its seed and the fission of an argument was threatening to take hold. Then I heard three magical words being spoken down the telephone to me – in an unmistakably sincere tone: “I hear you”.
The effect was immediate. I dropped my defensiveness and apologised for my mistake.
Exactly how someone is made to feel heard will depend entirely on the circumstances, the medium through which you communicate and the type of language that you communicate in. However, the ultimate message remains the same.
'Thank you for letting us know about the frustration you have had with...'
'We are sorry for the delay in responding and the inconvenience it has caused you.'
‘I was sorry to read about the disruption this issue has caused. I now realise how it important it is to resolve it.'
‘I’d like to take a moment to recognise your hardship and apologise for that.’
Once you've made your reader feel heard, it would be a mistake to follow up with a defensive statement – otherwise all the hard work of 'listening' will be undone.
‘My sincerest condolences for the time and energy that has no doubt already been spent on this issue. I can only imagine how taxing this must have been for you. But if you had looked at the invoice properly before paying it – all of this could have been avoided’.
You can imagine the response to that!
Allowing a client to feel sincerely heard, without judgement, doesn’t mean that you are accepting blame. It means that you are acknowledging that something has been hard for them. It is a simple step that can make all the difference in the long run - make sure you start with it.