One time after speaking at a company, an associate approached me. When he was near, I turned my back and spoke to someone else. He became angry and stormed out of the room. Later, he went to HR, and told them what happened. He called me a fake, saying I didn’t care about the “little” people. He asked them to never have me there to speak again.
Being disregarded is awful. I didn’t say a word, but I turned my back, which communicated he wasn’t worth a word.
Communication is 55% body language, so what we do says much more than what we say.
The HR director told me the situation. I was surprised. I did not remember him approaching me. I would never intentionally disregard someone. After speaking with the HR director, I was angry. Thoughts swirled, “How dare he say I’m fake!” “Does he really think I would disregard him on purpose?” “How stupid! He should’ve tapped me on the shoulder!” “If he wants to be a crybaby, that’s on him.”
I was defensive, but I allowed my emotions to settle and I sunk into my essence. I put myself in his shoes. A few ideas came to mind:
- He made himself vulnerable in approaching me.
- He had a different expectation than what happened.
- He must care about what I think to become so upset.
- He wants me to be “real”.
- He must have had something important to say if he wanted to speak with me.
I had a choice to make. I could let it go or take responsibility. For leaders, taking responsibility for communication is vital in creating a healthy culture. I always tell leaders, “Don’t fight what is, work with it.” I didn’t do anything wrong. I could’ve justified not talking to him, but I decided to swallow my pride and make it right.
I called the HR director and asked what time the associate started the next day. I showed up with coffee and donuts. I asked if I could talk to him in private. He looked defensive, but he relaxed after I handed him his coffee and donuts. I looked him in the eyes and apologized for disregarding him. I explained it was not intentional and I would do anything to make it up to him.
His face softened. He apologized for getting angry. He explained that he is has never approached a speaker before and was nervous. When he was ignored, he felt embarrassed, then angry. He admitted he should have given me the benefit of the doubt.
I apologized again and told him I would work hard to not disregarding anyone in the future. He forgave me and said numerous times how much he appreciated my effort towards him.
Communication mishaps are normal. They happen daily. Leaders must remember that in communication mishaps, it’s not about whose right or wrong.
He became my biggest advocate in helping the organization create a healthy culture.
Communication mishaps are normal. They happen daily. Leaders must remember that in communication mishaps, it’s not about whose right or wrong. It’s about making sure that people stay connected in heart, mind, and purpose. Leaders must humble themselves when communication goes array. Because what they do is greater than what they say.
Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”
An ancient proverb says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
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