3 Empathy Questions To Ask When People Make Mistakes

Your instructions weren’t followed. They didn’t consult you before making a big decision. They were careless in carrying out their task…

So they made a mistake.

And it cost you money. It wasted your efforts. And it scared you witless.

Our initial reaction in these situations is usually to get angry. We criticize, complain, or blame. But this doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, in the long run, it actually damages our relationships, demoralizes those around us, and communicates to people that we lack control over our emotions.

So what should we do when someone makes a mistake? 1.) Resist the urge to criticize, complain, or blame and 2.) ask empathy questions.

Here are 3 of them that will help you not only fix the mistake but also empower and connect with the person who made the mistake.

1. What happened?

Ask this question even though you already know what happened.

Because when you ask this as an empathy question, you’re not just asking for the details of what happened; You’re asking for the details from their point of view.

This communicates that you’re willing to listen to what they have to say. That you’re willing to give them a chance. And that even though they made a mistake, you still want to connect.

So the first empathy question you need to ask when a mistake happens is “What happened?”

2. How can we solve this?

The emphasis in this question is not on the word solve, it is on the word we.

You’re asking “how can we solve this,” not “how can you solve this.” See the difference?

This communicates that even though they made the mistake, they’re not alone in solving it. It lets them know that you’re focused on finding a solution instead of casting blame.

This makes the other person feel safe. It makes them feel that they can move on from the mistake and focus on solving it.

So the second empathy question you should ask is “How can we solve this?”

3. Can I trust you to do that?

“What?! They made the mistake and you want me to trust them to solve it?”

Absolutely! Because if you asked the first two questions correctly and effectively, then there is no one more motivated to solve the problem than the person who made the mistake.

They will want to prove themselves. They will want to make amends. They will want to restore the trust of the leader they’ve disappointed. And asking this question will empower them to do exactly that.

But as I’ve already mentioned, this works only if you’ve asked the first two questions correctly and effectively.

So this is the third empathy question: “Can I trust you to do that?”

Here’s the gist…

People will make mistakes. You can count on it.

But instead of blaming, criticizing, or complaining, you should ask empathy questions to connect and find a solution.

Here are 3 that you should ask:

  1. What happened?
  2. How can we solve this?
  3. Can I trust you to do that?

Every time someone makes a mistake, ask these questions in this order. Do this consistently and you will communicate better. You will find solutions more effectively. And you will empower those around you.

Do you know anyone who needs to read this? Share it with them!

Thumbnail Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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