Sweet words can heal. I can recall so many times as a dad where a “boo boo” was healed more by my words than any bandage or ointment. My kids were more appreciative and comforted by sweetness in tone and message (coupled with a hug).
Think for a minute about how we would do that in a Human Resources function. Are we to be the “boo boo” office? Regardless of how many HR departments that I’ve known that were (some still “are”) exclusively like this, I recognize that there really is no other place employees would think of going to than HR for such a need. So what do you do?
To start, I think it would be kind of awkward to hug and kiss the forehead of an employee whose feelings were hurt by a rough manager. Aside from the lawsuit that might accompany it (think I’m kidding?), I would submit that there is a diminishing of HR when this is done. Employees might see our office as we did the Nurse’s Office in school – it was a way to get out of class for a bit and you could rest there. There was a guy I knew in school who went to the nurse’s office 3 days a week after lunch for a nap. He didn’t have a doctor’s note or a parent’s permission. There was just a sweet nurse who liked him and let him sleep. Are we merely a “nice nurse?” The nurse in school had her nursing degree and a skill set in it, but she relegated herself as being nice. Her competencies were not appreciated by those she served.
Comforting a person in a tough situation or who is experiencing difficulty should have a human aspect to it. I am not advocating a cold HR office (far from it!). I believe that there is a deep reason to have an HR professional who can connect to the talent within an organization. As cultural ambassadors for our companies, we have to engage with our staff to win the right to be heard. We offer a productive viewpoint and a desire to affect change that is most readily received by an audience who knows us.
When M'Lynn (Sally Field in "Steel Magnolias") loses her daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts), she is rallied to by all of the people in her life who really know her. And while I know that the gut-wrenching scene at the cemetery is not what most HR folks will deal with each day, I do know that the aspect of putting yourself out there has to be practiced in order to engage with others in an impactful way.
By being real, we open a door. Are you hiding behind your door? Open it. Get up from your desk, open the door and head out to the assembly line, the sales floor or the customer service department. Your words will bring healing when they are heard in the context of your relational deposits and cultural encouragement. Believe that your skill set will shine as you embrace (figuratively) the staff you serve.
And consider that as people grow and mature (well, most people do…I see your head shaking…I know some exceptions myself!), the way in which comfort and connection happen might have to evolve, too. I don’t speak to the entry-level folks exactly the way I do to those I’ve known for 20 years in the workforce. There is history between us that I draw upon and allow my conversation to reflect that depth. I won’t be able to just “kiss it and make it better” with them any longer.
Today, as my kids get older, I think about how one day they will be comforting me as I age. When my ability to do things as I’ve always done becomes impaired, my children will have to use some of the skills in comforting that I’ve shown them. I trust that those deposits of family culture and engagement will blossom into confidence and leadership as they take ownership of the family. We need to build people up to handle such difficulties. Whether our kids or our employees, we can bring comfort. Think about the cultural deposits you’re making towards it.