Experts claim that we need good social connections for a healthy workplace. That’s easy to say, but when tension and conflict arise, the good intentions for social connections go right out the window. This is especially true when asking for an accommodation.
A group I coached told me about the time a new employee announced in a meeting that she was an HSP (highly sensitive person) and asked for an accommodation. A few people smiled, many others looked shocked, and several actually snickered. No attempt was made to accommodate her. After she left the meeting, the group members challenged, “What in the heck is an HSP?” The story was told to me without kindness or understanding, only derision.
I listened carefully and then offered a simple observation: the woman was obviously wounded and begging for support, but the way she went about it was ineffective. Had she framed her request better, the result would have been different.
What would have happened, I asked, if she had said, “I’m so happy to be here?” I would like to share with you something about me and ask for your help. I’m an HSP, a highly sensitive person. I’m a gentle, kind person and intensity is really hard for me.” And then, depending on how much she chose to divulge, she might have added, “I had an abusive childhood, I’m in recovery, or other terrible things have happened to me and I’m doing my best to rise above these circumstances. Your kindness, support, and encouragement would mean so much to me. I am trying my best, and your accommodation would be very helpful and I’d be so grateful. Thank you.”
Everyone in the group looked stunned and stayed quiet for quite a while. Finally, they all started nodding. I asked, “What would your reaction have been then?” Every single person responded that they would have tried to be helpful, accommodating, and understanding.
Humans have a reciprocity bias: if I listen to you, you will feel the urge to listen to me. A subtle dance exists in the tension between the accommodator and the person being accommodated. Demanding may feel just or right in the moment, but it rarely succeeds. We say no to something that feels overreaching. Shutting down an employee without understanding the request is the surest way to lose that employee.
When we ask for an accommodation, we are focusing on our own needs. To be successful in gaining acquiescence for our request, we must speak into the ears that are hearing us. This means we have to see and understand the person who is receiving our request for accommodation. Is the person receptive and kind, aggressive and impatient, open to suggestions and ideas or harried and focused only on the task at hand? What is important to that person?
Specifically, when speaking to a receptive person, try sharing something about yourself and your situation before you ask for help. Explaining why you need an accommodation allows the other person to voluntarily want to help you.
When speaking to an impatient or aggressive person, communicate factually and concisely that this accommodation will help you achieve your objectives or goals. Explain how the company or your department will reap benefits from this accommodation because it will allow you to perform at your highest potential.
Interestingly, most managers would try to find an accommodation if they understood more about their employees. Unfortunately, most requests for accommodation sound like demands. A demand triggers our amygdala and makes us defensive. This natural human reaction shuts down our cognitive functions and has a circle-the-wagons effect, where no seems to be the safest and easiest answer. This can defeat an accommodation request before it is even considered.
Most human beings are naturally conflict-avoidant: why get involved if we don’t have to? It’s stressful, difficult, and none of our business. When asked to understand something that is outside our normal understanding, jumping to no is easier. The simple recitation of “company policy” can be used as a shield when denying your request.
Here are 5 superior ways to get your point across, be heard with respect, and increase the odds that your accommodation request will be granted:
- Ask yourself what outcome you hope to achieve, and speak only to that goal.
- Identify and speak into the ears that are hearing you.
- Decide to really listen to what the other person has to say and understand the reason for a potential denial of your request.
- Respond with curiosity, not anger, and try to encourage a conversation with real give and take.
- Invite the dance of reciprocity. What can you offer to stimulate a reciprocity response?
As a mediation attorney, I am daily confronted with impossible demands—requests that are sandwiched between the proverbial rock and a hard place. When you use these five Holding the Calm tools, your request for accommodation will be less stressful and ultimately more effective.
Written by Hesha Abrams, Esq.
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