Lesson 5 – Preventing Problems

Preventing Problems

We can do a lot to keep problems from happening in the first place. Keep in mind that empathy is not agreeing. Sympathy means agreeing with a feeling or a concern. Empathy means you understand what the person said, but you don’t necessarily agree with it. You should avoid catch phrases like, “I agree” or “Yes, that’s true.” Don’t reinforce a concern. You would be able to express your empathy by rephrasing the key topic of the person’s statement.

Some phrases you might use include:

  • “I hear…
  • “I understand…”
  • “I think you’re saying…”

The concept of rephrasing before answering allows you:

  • A chance to empathise with the concerns
  • An opportunity to show the person you understand the concern
  • A moment to think of an appropriate response


Finally, check back to be sure the individual is satisfied with your explanation. Your ability to handle conflict effectively will play an important role in your overall communication skills and your ability to create a win/win environment.

Dangerous Misconceptions

  • People always pay attention when you are speaking to them.
  • When people say they are paying attention, they really are.
  • When someone says “I know” s/he really does.
  • Saying something over and over will ensure that your listener understands.
  • Saying something over and over, slowly or loudly, will be even more effective.

Answers will likely include:

Look at non-verbal communication.

Person refuses eye contact, red face, clenched hands, arms crossed.

Read between the lines.

This is more difficult. We have to listen to what the person isn’t saying as well as what they are saying. Do they sound angry, defensive or put upon? Are they refusing to give an opinion or take action to correct things? Do you sense a reluctance to do something, or confusion over what the person is to do?


There are five ways to probe other people. One of the most common ways of probing is to ask an open question, such as:

  • “Can you describe that more clearly?”
  • “Would you give me a specific example of what you mean?”
  • “What do you think we should do?”

The difficulty here is that if you ask too many of these, the other person begins to feel like they are under interrogation.

A second, very effective way of probing is a pause. Stop talking. Let them speak up to fill the silence.

A third way is to ask a reflective question. For example, the person has just said, “What I really want is more variety in my work,” and you may respond by just reflecting back to them, “Variety?” The reflective question usually provides you with an expanded answer without you appearing to ask more questions. Of course, it is best used in conjunction with a pause.

A fourth method that is particularly useful to make certain you are clear about what the individual has said is paraphrasing what has just been said, in your own words. “So if I understand you correctly, you…”

The last method, most often used as a conversation is winding down, is the summary question. “You have tried ignoring the scent of your colleague’s cologne, you have talked with him about how it affects your allergies, and you have tried shutting your door to keep the scent from your workspace. None of these has worked and now you are asking me to intervene. Have I got it right?”

All of these methods can help make the other person feel better understood, and prevent conflict from occurring.