This post first appeared in 2004 in a newsletter I used to publish.
On Halloween, my mother-in-law passed away in our home. She lived with us for nearly eight years. During the final weeks of her life, my wife (Sandra), my two daughters (Lydia and Alexandra), and I provided 24×7 care for her. Early in the month we had a fantastic 85th birthday celebration for her that included family from South Carolina and friends she made while living in Indiana for the last six years. With all of the events of the month, I lost track of time and realized that it was November before I had written the October edition of Positive Principles. Everything is now under control and I’m back in the game. I am thankful for the experience and for the trust Mama placed in us to take care of her. This month’s tip is drawn
from my experiences in the final days of her life.
On the Friday before she passed away, Sandra arranged for us to receive help from a local hospice as it became clear that Mama had lost the will to continue fighting her chronic, terminal lung disease. The hospice responded quickly and immediately sent a nurse who provided medication to make Mama more comfortable, medical advice about what to expect during the dying process and help in providing comfort and care for our patient. Everyone we dealt with from the hospice was a wonderful person with a truly caring attitude. Despite all of the positives, part of the experience was frustrating.
Our hospice nurse was quick to help, quick to offer advice, quick to provide support, and quick to respond to our every call. She was and is a wonderful person. She has a loving heart. She always had the right answer. She always cared. But, she didn’t slow down enough to listen before responding to fix the problem.
Due to another commitment, Sandra had to leave Mama in my care over the weekend. When the hospice nurse arrived on Friday evening, she was quick to assess the situation and to take action to make Mama comfortable. As we spoke, she often answered my questions before I finished them or cut our conversation off to move on to something else. Because I knew her heart was in the right place and I understood that she had other patients to care for, I understood her situation and chose not to let myself get irritated. From a logical standpoint I knew then and I know now that she really cared for both Mama and me during the three days that we worked together. But try as I might, I had a hard time “feeling” like she really cared.
My logical, analytical nature is probably the saving grace in this situation. I can’t really take credit for controlling my response. I just responded the way I naturally do – based on logic. The potential problem for leaders lies in the fact that most of the world does not respond primarily from a logical basis. The DISC model of human behavior shows that only about 35% of the population has a predominant task-oriented drive like I do. The other 65% of the population has more of a people (or feeling) oriented drive.
Let’s go back to the interaction I had with the hospice nurse. The above statistics show that about 65% of the population will tend to respond from feelings over logic – especially in a high stress or highly emotional situation. In my interaction with the nurse, I knew that she cared but I didn’t “feel” that she cared. Because of the emotional nature of the situation, my feelings almost took over my response. If that had happened, I might have said or done something that caused a serious conflict between me and the nurse.
Guy Harris, Mr. Logic himself, struggled to get past his feelings to view an emotional situation from a logical standpoint. So how likely is it that a people-oriented person will get past their feelings and give you the benefit of the doubt when they don’t “feel” like you understand them? I think the chances are slim to none.
As leaders, you will encounter changing business climates, organizational shake-ups, downsizings, disciplinary actions, and a host of other high stress situations where you will need people to choose to follow your lead. Remember that most people will act based primarily on their feelings during those times. Most people will not willingly follow you if they don’t feel that you care. As stated in the first quote for this month, “Listen and silent have the same letters.” Be still, be quiet, and listen to your people. You can connect with their feelings and show that you care by slowing down long enough to listen to them before you act.