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What Have I Done to Deserve This?

There are three young adults who have eaten my food, slept in my house and spent my money for years. They are tremendous. Those who know me have probably heard me share that no less than 10,000 times. Frank, Olivia and Cassandra are bright, funny, kind and loving. Truly awesome people. However, they are not without their vices. And corporately, don’t let them be in a room when an episode of Maury is on. They will watch to the end to see if the man in question is the father of the other guest’s child. They jump around just like the guests and studio audience in disbelief of the results. As the dad watching this, I wind up laughing hysterically, not at the show, but at their responses.

I am often struck as to what has led people to the lives they are living. We all have a history. We all wish something would have gone differently. We look back on things with rose-colored glasses. We long for one different turn or choice in our past. This may be to varying degrees, but a shared experience for us all, nonetheless.

As human resources professionals, we are often the ones who hear the stories of regret, pain and anger from the teams we support. On one occasion, I remember sitting in my office crying with an employee who was battling alcoholism and drug use. He was longing for a different path. He was struggling with the pain of past choices and heartbreak. The guilt he felt was as constricting as the longing to return to his addiction. He wanted to know what he did to deserve this pain while he was admitting making the poor choices all on his own. The dichotomy broke my heart.

Our role is not to judge, but to listen. As a recovering “fixer,” I know my tendency was to offer a 3-step strategy to move things along. Pain from a distant parent, no problem. Divorce got you down, no worries. I had the answers. Wisdom came a little later and I stopped feeling like I had to fix it all. And that meant, the unsolicited advice dialed way back.

Each person has a path towards discovery. In human resources, we can default to the policy or the program, but the real support is in the listening and providing the outlet. I have lost count as to how many employees have thanked me after they’ve shared with me for a bit. I would say very little, but the action of being present and listening was enough to encourage and to comfort. They could return to work a little lighter and with more of a focus on what work needed to be completed.

There is often a joke about HR being the counseling department. I understand where that comes from, but truly it’s about listening. That’s what makes it feel counselor-esque. So, how are you doing at listening? Are you more interested in the “dirt” or in the person? I know it’s easy to get wrapped up in the story of the drama. But that drama is the pain someone is bearing. Hear it from that vantage point. Your responsiveness will evolve accordingly if you keep that in mind.

(For some additional thoughts on how and why to listen, look back at “Leave A Tender Moment Alone”)



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