“Feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”
— Anne Frank, “The Diary of a Young Girl”
Every interaction we have with people creates a feeling inside of them. From those feelings, thoughts and judgments arise about the qualities of the interaction we just had, about the topics we discussed and about who we are in relationship to one another. Feelings reside below reflective thoughts.
Feelings are the boiling water that thoughts arise from as steam. Feelings are the lush soil thoughts arise from as sunflowers. Feelings are the bitter air thoughts arise from as a stinging chill. What people will take most fully from interactions with you is not a packet of papers or reports, it is a feeling — that will give rise to thoughts — and then to actions.
How people feel about us is the determining factor in business and in life. And if we want to get serious about shaping how people feel about us, we must first start by acknowledging that to be true.
Next, we need to be constantly applying the feeling filter when we consider our interactions with others, particularly when the stakes are high. While you are planning an important interaction, ask yourself: How do I want this person or group to feel when the meeting is over? What gets me there?
If you want people to feel like you embody great leadership, don’t put a discussion about the phone bill on the agenda. Great leaders grapple with the big issues — talk about those. If you want people to feel overwhelmed, hit them with tons of paper.
If you want them to feel frightened, bring them bad news or ignore them altogether. If you want them to feel engaged and valued, ask them questions about what they think and feel on a topic that matters to them and listen intently to their responses.
If you consistently apply the feeling filter, you’ll become gradually more aware of just how many neutral or even negative feelings you have unknowingly created in others. A lot of managers, in delivering their truths, simply focus on the content of the message.
With thought, however, there is often a pathway to deliver some difficult truths in a way that creates feelings of acceptance, support and even love in the people we are talking to. The messages we have to deliver do not in themselves determine the feelings they create in the minds and hearts of the recipients.
That’s what I want you to remember. Let your words to others follow your intentions of how they will make them feel. Don’t just focus on the words and let the feelings fall where they may or you’ll be picking up the pieces of broken relationships you didn’t intend to harm.
Remember: It’s always “what do I want them to feel when this is over?” Once you know that, the question naturally becomes “What gets me to that feeling?” Helping people feel good about you is definitely a worthy objective. ●
Daniel Flowers is president and CEO at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.