No one gets to be an executive by being incompetent; however, if what you once perceived as one of your major talents seems to be backfiring destructively, it’s time to pause and reflect.
I’m referring to decision-making. Executives tend to get more accolades for being decisive than for being hesitant. Being able to speedily appraise a situation, including the person asking for a decision and the problem being raised, and then deliver a solution isn’t a bad attribute but if a skill that’s become habitual starts to run low on empathy, things can start going badly wrong.
A principle of Gestalt psychology is that, beneath our assumptions about the type of person we take ourselves to be, we’re actually all involved in an endless process of becoming, in which co-creation plays a major part. When I address another human being, I partially create what that person experiences as his or her sense of self (and vice versa). A decision that shoots out like a crossbow bolt may have much to commend it in content, but we don’t normally associate crossbows with empathy. Instead of feeling helped, the person on the receiving end is likely to feel harpooned.
Empathic deficits in executives aren’t good for business. They lead to unspoken feelings of resentment, hurt pride and resistive attitudes amongst those on the receiving end. This is where Gestalt consultant Herb Stevenson’s approach can be invaluable: Pause, Reflect and Choose (or PRC).
Coaching executives to break the habitual crossbow response by pausing opens up precious space for reflection: what is being asked of me, who is asking, what emotional state are they in, and how can I tune in to this with an effective response? An effective response needs to avoid having a passively or actively harmful emotional impact on the staff member. Lingering to consider how to actively support the questioner is worth its weight in gold – and in staff morale.