As I opened a new bank account some time ago, the young woman serving me was efficient and professional and we proceeded through the process quickly. That was until she started to explain the fees that the bank was going to charge me for opening an account.
Fees to open an account? Why, I asked, why do I need to pay to open an account?
I can’t recall her exact answer, but it was very ‘official’. I wasn’t happy but didn’t have the energy to question it, I needed to open an account and guessed that other banks charge similar fees.
We continued the process. Then further fees were revealed, which brought further questions from me and another ‘official’ response.
This was getting to me. It wasn’t about the money. It just felt unfair. I was about to tell her forget it, I’d go somewhere else.
Then, this young woman saved the day by doing something that I’m sure wasn’t part of her ‘official customer training’.
This was getting to me. It wasn’t about the money. It just felt unfair.
She looked at me and said ‘I know exactly how you feel, I bank with this bank too and they charge me the same fees, and I work for them! Its completely unfair, but all banks are the same they all charge these fees’.
This response changed everything for me! Right then I decided – I liked her! She was real, she was human, she was no longer trying to give me the official line.
I could see that she was just trying to do her job. We laughed together, I agreed to the fees and we completed the paperwork. I left feeling quite good, the fees mostly forgotten about and young woman’s refreshingly honest response still with me.
This response changed everything for me! She was real, she was human, she was no longer trying to give me the official line.
Why did this work for me?
Why did this woman’s unconventional response work for me? It turns out that there was likely a lot going on inside my brain and her brain that helps explain why this worked.
Mirror neurons located within our brain allow us to feel something that another person is experiencing and have been connected to empathy. When we care and listen to others without feeling threatened or judged, the emotional part of the brain that responds negatively to threats is calmed and mirror neurons are activated. This creates empathy and connection. I felt listened to and understood by her. I felt she understood me, in turn I understood her. She was only doing her job. It suddenly felt like we were on common ground.
I felt listened to and understood by her. I felt she understood me, in turn I understood her.
Positive conversations also lead to chemical reactions in our brains. Oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘feel-good’ hormone is released helping us to trust others and collaborate. Once I had trust in her, I was able to move beyond my initial irritation.
Being Human in Communication
Whether you are in a customer service position explaining policy, or relaying organizational decisions to a team of 100 people, being human builds connection and trust and gets better results. The good news is that this is not about learning a completely new skill, after all, you are already human.
Try out these three tips when you communicate:
1. Communicate person to person
The person you are communicating with is a person, they have fears, joys and emotions just like you do. They may be an annoying customer, boss or employee, but they are still a person.
The person you are communicating with is a person, they have fears, joys and emotions just like you do.
Consider what they are experiencing in this situation? What thoughts, feelings and emotions are they going through? And what would you want to hear if you were feeling something similar? How would the official line make you feel?
2. Listen to the person as a person
Really listening to another person without judgment is an opportunity to activate mirror neurons and build empathy. This often forgotten aspect of communication can help build trust and connection.
3. Be Honest
Sometimes being human is simply about being honest. This may include saying sorry, saying you don’t know or even saying you don’t know what to say. People are not always looking for answers or information, often honesty and understanding are more important.
There is no exact recipe for being human when you communicate, you’ll need to decide what’s best in the moment. It’s more about remembering that we are all people and that this can easily get forgotten when we’re busy, or stressed or scared. And maybe it’s about stepping outside of the official company line and being willing to show real understanding, just as the bank clerk did with me.