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HR Empathy: "I Understand Why You Took the Money From the Company Safe"...

You're a skeptic. I'm a skeptic. But is being a skeptic in and of itself enough for HR success? Could you question things and then just leave it be?  Probably not. Getting people to talk is one of the keys to being a great HR pro, and Marisa Keegan captured that perfectly in a recent post at Fistful of Talent:

I’m not going to lie, my favorite moments at work come when I’ve gotten someone to say something they wouldn’t normally have said; something they were thinking but knew they should keep to them Interrogation_room_ self. A co-worker recently complimented my ability to get people to ‘spill their guts without realizing what they’re doing’

Translation:  The best HR people have empathy that others can feel, even if the others in question are in the crosshairs of a company investigation into theft.  One of the hardest things to learn as an HR pro is the art of running an interview with someone you know probably committed an act against the company that's going to result in them being fired.

Still, you need the confession.  You know it.  They know it.  They don't want to give it.

The average HR Director/Manager doesn't get the confession.  The great ones do.

What's the difference between the average ones and the great ones when it comes to this part of the job?

Empathy.  Patience.  Acting.  Perhaps even an open mind going in, which translates into empathy that's believable and authentic.

Spend enough time with the target of the investigation, and you may see why things in their life are so messed up that they took money from the company. Which leads to the following key example of an empathetic statement that nets confessions:

"I understand why you thought you had to take money from the company safe"

Empathy.  You don't agree with what they did, but you've listened long enough to hear about their troubles.  You've had a conversation, and you can frame a statement of understanding that makes them as comfortable as possible...

The great ones take the time and channel empathy.  As a result, they get information that average HR pros can't.  If you work in any environment with a lot of employee relations issues, these skills are gold.

And the great HR pros want confessions.  They need confessions.  It's one of the things that makes them great.



They need us on that wall...


So back when I was a commercial real estate agent and one of my Landlords described me as "disarming," that may have been a clue I was headed for a career in HR?


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I relate to this post as I'm one of those that gets the confession. Another equally important skill is to keep the "Oh S**T" look off of your face when they confess to doing something shocking. I wonder if there is a career in Poker after HR?


I have seen empathy in action, as a witness in the room for these investigation meetings. It takes a keen ability to wait out a pause in the conversation so that they might fill the uncomfortable silence with more information. If you can add in the understanding look conveys that you already know the story they're about to spill, it's even better.

resume examples

The best we can hope for is because it's a bit harder to counterfeit, it might discourage people.

John Miller

Such a simple message and so true! Things such us empathy or grattitude are so needed and implicit into our function.

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