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Posted by on Jul 25, 2014

Having an “HMU” Instead of an Attack

HelpMeUnderstandA senior leader at a Federal agency I recently worked with was revered throughout the organization, known for his wisdom, excellent communication skills and approachability.

When something went bad or wrong with anyone, he would sit down with the person and have an “HMU” conversation.

Before explaining what an HMU is, it is important to remember how most conversations go in many organizations when something goes wrong. The conversation often goes badly, evokes negative emotions, defensiveness, hurt feelings, future avoidance and other damage. (This is why teaching people how to give feedback that works is a standard feature management and leadership development programs.)

But an HMU conversation is different. It stands for “Help Me Understand.”

First, it’s a conversation, not a diatribe or one-way monologue.

Second, it leads with questions. Asking to help someone help you understand is a question itself.

HMU starts with no real agenda or pre-conceived notions. It starts with a desire to understand.

Since the “how” of the “what” always matters greatly in these things, it should be noted that the demeanor of the leader who uses this approach is calm, open and reasonable.

The HMU gives the employee the responsibility of walking through his or her reasoning, and it goes from there.

When there is information that was not known to the leader that changes the picture, he thanks the employee and everyone gets back to work.

And when there was a lapse in logic or good thinking on the part of the employee, the leader helps the employee see that.

Employees know an HMU could lead to constructive criticism, but it’s different than an attack. It helps them to think through their actions, surface their reasoning and actually learn something.

The next time something happens that doesn’t make sense to you, start with “Help me understand . . .”

If giving effective feedback and other leadership and management competencies are holding your team back, consider implementing a leadership development program.

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