I know of a brilliant medical doctor who, in front of a worried patient, perhaps with some imaginary worries, perhaps real ones, says: ‘Tell me what you need to hear so that you stop worrying’. Before you think that this is just a blind and dishonest way to please, see how she continues: ‘Not that I may be able to satisfy you, but I need to know what I could tell you that would help you to calm’. And later on, she is likely to end: ‘let me worry about A and B, you worry about X and Y’. X and Y being the things the patient may have full control over. Worried is now distributed!
Compare it with the ‘I’ll tell you the truth”. She is not telling a non-truth, she is just trying to figure out what is in your mind, what would trigger some comfort. She may not be able to give it to you, but, unless she knows, that is, unless she asks, there would be no good effect. ‘What do you need to hear?’, what a fantastic question that is.
By framing the conversation this way, she is very soon three quarters of the way to generate high trust.
This doctor approach is the opposite of ‘assuming’. Assuming is a dreadful word that places all power on your own mind ability to … assume, to know, to guess, to imagine. Assuming may be the only thing left once you have zero or little information, but not a clever strategy if you could get that information.
This doctor did not assume what would be the worrying items of the patient. The illness itself? Perhaps the illness is mild but the patient is worried about being out of work? Or carrying a hereditary burden. Or perhaps he may have a completely irrational fear to dying, but this remained unsaid.
Doctors that assume what patients worry about, instead of asking, would be fairly arrogant. Managers that assume what employees want as a reward, are equally arrogant. You may grant money when people want recognition. You may grant a holiday in an exotic place when people may want to be at home. You may grant discount coupons when people don’t want to buy anything. You may award 500 of something when people may expect 5000.
You may think that people stay with you because of your great management, but they do because they live nearby. Or because the fundamental values of the company, but they do because they need to pay the mortgage and would work for different values altogether.
Can we please stop the epidemic of assuming and start asking questions?
What could I tell you that would produce X, not that I can guarantee, but I want to know (that brilliant doctor frame)
Why are you still here in the company?
What would be a sign of recognition from us?
You know those kind of incredibly complicated and sophisticated questions.
‘What do you need to hear so that you stop worrying?’ is not just a smart frame but an act of kindness.
I want to import the principle from that brilliant doctor to our tired and worrying organizations.