I was once told to approach every person as though they are fighting a personal battle—and most often that tenet will be correct. If you are tempted to take it personally when a dance parent loses her cool, remember this: perhaps her anger is not entirely about the issue she’s brought to you. An empathetic and contextualized response from you will strengthen her loyalty and trust.
This is not a new secret or shortcut to success. I would argue that it is now more important—and underestimated—than in any time in history. In an age where the text emoji is the new way to talk, where keyboard warriors fire off cowardice comments of hatred on social media, and cyberbullying permeates through every demographic, we are at a critical crossroads.
We must master how to communicate courageously. Instead of speaking to convince others that you are right, you must enter a frame of mind where you hear other people’s perspectives with empathy and are open to being wrong.
Be a Builder, not a Bulldozer
To be effective as a communicator and a leader your job is to be a builder, not a bulldozer.
If you are a bulldozer you push aside all other ideas, perspectives, and feelings, and say, “This is how it’s going to be.” You force your agenda and demand that others see and acknowledge that you were right all along. Builders seek to understand. You will look for what is right over who is right.
A bulldozer will say, “Policy says this is the way.” A builder will say, “Can you explain to me what you were expecting instead?”
A bulldozer talks first. A builder listens first.
Pause, Ask, and Listen
Courageous communication means taking time to hear the other side. Walk for a minute in someone else’s shoes. Or if you’re like me and enjoy a corny acronym, be a PAL: Pause, Ask questions, and Listen.
We recently had a parent come into the studio livid about her 4-year-old daughter’s costume. She was literally yelling at the receptionist at the front desk. I was on site that day and immediately stopped the conversation at the front desk and pulled her into an empty room. (We’ve learned that angry parents calm down quicker when pulled away from the spotlight of other customers.)
Once we were in the room, I started asking questions. Several questions. What was wrong? What was she expecting? How does her daughter feel about the costume? Is there something wrong with the quality of the costume? What did she feel we could do to make it right?
We got to the root of the problem pretty quickly, and the solution was actually quite simple. She was expecting a frilly pink dress like she saw another class get. “No problem!” I said. “The costume your daughter received is for a hip hop class. All you need to do is add a ballet class and you can get the frilly pink dress too!”
Being a PAL opened up the line of communication for both of us to be understood so we could come to a win-win solution. The mom returned the next day and was embarrassed about how she acted; she praised the studio for how we handled the situation. And she added the other class so her daughter could dance in both costumes. Most importantly though, we built a relationship of trust. Learning how to pause, ask, and listen has benefitted both me and my studio.
It’s Time to Do Better
Leaders whose definition of success includes numbers but ignores relationships will fail at some point. The ability to communicate courageously and effectively is critical for the success of every relationship.
To do this at your studio, I challenge you and your team to also “get on the team” of every single person who walks through your doors. When you do this, you will communicate differently. You will listen more intently. You will be more perceptive. You will understand who they are and what their real needs are. In short: be a builder, not a bulldozer. Remember to pause, ask, and listen.
Try courageous communication the next time a team member says something you perceive to be passive aggressive. Try it when a teenage student uses sarcasm about the dress code, or that unruly parent tells you how to run your business. This approach will bring you peace of mind, stronger relationships, and more loyalty.