I warned you, didn’t I?!
I hate it when people who have no idea what they are talking about make a vague and surface-y attempt to appear empathetic by saying “I understand.” Also, the tone is a big issue. When I am attempting to advocate for myself and demonstrate to someone how their behavior demeans me as a person and literally strips away my dignity as a human being and their response is a saccharine “I understand,” I see red.
In order to fully understand a situation, one actually has to have knowledge of said situation.
In order to fully understand the impact of your behavior, you have to ask questions.
When a person has caused a situation that demeans another human being and then receive an explanation as to how what they did made the other person feel, the appropriate response is something along the lines of … I had no idea, I’m so sorry, I have no words, I didn’t understand, How can I make this better. Not “I understand.”
Especially when the person asks no questions and made no effort to become familiar with the person they are speaking with.
I confess that when this happens, I am so triggered that my response is usually … “YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND” in a very loud and intense voice as the shouty capitals may indicate to a reader.
I think there is some coaching company or trainer that is training people to use these terms when dealing with an unhappy customer or, in my case, patient.
Well those coaches or trainers are fucking idiots.
There is NOTHING that gets me going more than a patently false and surface attempt at showing empathy.
When the customer or patient is scratching helplessly for some tiny acknowledgment that we are more than the illness that requires us to be a consumer of medical services and constantly have to deal with the broken medical system, the last thing we need is a bandaid. Sometimes I literally feel as though my intestines are pouring out on the floor, that every single part of me is exposed and available for others to see and sift through. When I get another call that requires me to adjust my life even more because of some silly “rule” that is more form than substance, I see red.
When I see red, I can’t not address it.
I know another trigger for me is that most of the time I hear these phrases, it is from a person who is a scheduler or a front desk person or some other low level employee. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had those jobs and they are important; however, in my experience, the knowledge level and understanding of the organization as a whole is not something that the employees at this level understand. They know what they know in order to do their jobs, not how the entire system works.
And so when someone who clearly does not really understand more than their own role or perhaps a little more, there is literally no way for this person to understand the impact or the affect of their actions or non actions.
Instead of saying “I Understand” the next time someone is talking, try the following phrases (unless, of course, you have been IN THE EXACT SAME SCENARIO AND ARE EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE PERSON SPEAKING):
- I hear you — this phrase acknowledges that you are paying close attention to the concerns as articulated by the person talking.
- Please tell me more — this phrase indicates that you want to understand the issues or details behind the person’s concern or objection.
- What would be the solution that would help you the most — this phrase indicates that you want to hear from the person affected by whatever is going on and you really might be surprised by the solutions offered by the people receiving medical care.
- Do you want me to offer a solution or do you need to vent right now — I suppose this is more for a friend rather than an employee of the offending organizations.
- I don’t have the power or ability to help you, but I’m going to fine someone who can — I realize acknowledging that you don’t have the ability or power to fix something is hard to do, but when it’s the truth, that’s what should be said.
- I didn’t understand how my actions would impact you, I’m sorry — there is no shame in acknowledging what is actually going on. No one can truly understand how they impact another person without more information and when you are given that information, it is necessary to simply say, I didn’t know.
- That sounds just awful — every human being wants to be heard. We want to be seen. We want other human beings to pay attention. Rather than starting with being defensive, start with listening and hearing.
What else have I missed as far as an alternative response? What would YOU like to hear in a situation like this?