When they send a terse email. When they pick a (metaphorical) fight in a meeting. When they’re emotionally unengaged in an important conversation. When they make a rash decision. It’s these times when we need to ask the humanizing question.
In a previous post titled, “When a leader should confront” I suggested Ken Sande’s tip on determining whether a person needed to be confronted for some sort of poor behavior. His idea of the “humanizing question” was in that post, but I wanted to go a little further with the content.
So what’s the humanizing question? Ken Sande, in his book The Peace Maker says it this way:
“The humanizing question looks at an infraction and uses not only a situational view of the person who committed infraction, but also a dispositional view. When we feel we are wronged, we often ask, ‘What’s the matter with that person?’ instead of, ‘Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?’”
“Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?”
Whether for a staff member, church member, friend or family member, ask the humanizing question before you take your judgments or your response too far.
The humanizing question is similar to giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s a grace giving question. But when there’s an infraction this question can create enough pause to help you uncover if there’s something larger that’s going on, perhaps something with their infraction is just a symptom.
Recently, a minister from another state contacted me. He and his church’s leadership were determining whether an employee who resigned quickly, and in poor form, should be “sought after.” And not only to be sought after to be restored relationally, but restored to the position from which she resigned.
My counsel was limited, but the humanizing question came to mind…why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person resign that way? Had this employee acted like this before? Had they shown evidence of rash behavior before?
So What’s the Humanizing Question Going to do?
The purpose of the humanizing question is to help you understand if there is a cause/effect relationship with their behavior. And that information can inform your response to their behavior.
Now, that said, extenuating circumstances in one’s life does not mean fair game on poor behavior. But, grace should abound with extenuating circumstances.
What Happens After You Get Answers?
If there’s a pattern of these infractions, well, deal with it. But when the infraction doesn’t “seem like them,” or in other words, is an anomaly in their behavior, then at the least, let the infraction go. And the most, help them understand how their behavior was wrong and is being perceived.
Your discernment will allow a choice between rushing in without regard to answers for the humanizing question and letting them off the hook altogether.
If it demands a conversation, then at the appropriate time, connect with the person. Show concern for them. But also show concern for the project or person affected by their “infraction.” You could lead with something like, “In that meeting today you didn’t seem to be yourself, and I want to understand if there’s something going on…”
Rarely, if ever, do we know all the stressors in one’s life. So when possible, slow down and ask the humanizing question before trying to solve what could be a small symptom of a much larger stressor.