Being the dominant personality I am, I grew up hearing the words “be gentle” quite often, but I never interpreted it to do with character. It was more when handling things such as small chicks or ornaments for the tree or even when learning to vacuum. I often heard phrases such as “bull in a china shop.” Studying more about assessment styles and emotional intelligence, improving myself, and helping others be more effective in the workplace, I heard the term “gentle” to describe character.

Digging further, I discovered the formal meaning according to Webster is all about temperament and character.

  1. Having or showing mild, kind, or tender temperament or character
  2. Moderate in action, effect, or degree, not harsh or severe

The verb or action associate is to make or become gentle, calm, or to pacify.

I have heard Gandhi’s quote, “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless,” and I know Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” and, of course, “You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar,” but how do these apply to the Construction Management Workplace or any workplace in general?

Gentleness in the workplace is the balance between communicating your point yet recognizing there is a living, breathing, possibly fragile individual receiving and processing the message.

How many times in your career have you heard one of two things from your superiors when preparing correspondence to address an issue and get a resolution? They either say rewrite to correct your tone, or they say you must be more direct to get the point and urgency for resolution across. If this balance is critical in writing, it must be just as critical in person. When being done in person, you have body language, location, tone, eye contact, and other factors that all play into the reaction from both sides. In writing, you can reread before sending and have a second set of eyes give you an opinion. In person, you get one opportunity to communicate effectively without coming across as too harsh to the other person.

What are a few ways to communicate effectively without breaking another’s spirit or demeaning them in any way?

1. Open difficult conversations with a subject.

When you address a situation in correspondence, there is typically an opening subject line preparing the reader for the topic addressed. When you are verbally communicating with someone, you can start by saying: “I am calling to address (insert subject)” or “Would now be a good time for us to discuss (insert subject)?” This gives the person on the receiving end time to adjust their thoughts to that subject for better receipt and processing.

2. Refrain from any personal attacks.

Regardless of how you feel about their integrity, initiative, ability, or attitude, the goal is to communicate with that person to assist in the outcome you are seeking from them, regardless of the bodily package they are in. If you value your integrity and want to be proud of your attitude, then part of that is providing dignity to that person in the moment. Not because they necessarily deserve it, but because your chances of getting the result you are seeking in business is that balance of truth, gentleness, and fearlessness Gandhi speaks of. In business, you must not fear to communicate. Make sure your communication is truthful (verifiable with backup), and the gentle comes in with knowing the person in front of you is not your enemy. If they appear to be, it is because they think you are theirs as their battlefront emerged.

3. Exercise the “Two Are Better than One” method.

It is not a weakness to ask someone to critique your tone in correspondence, give you constructive criticism on your approach, or help you gather facts and understand urgency—the result that is desired and not an assumption of how all you are doing plays into the bigger picture for the project or company. Work on your ability to see people who work independently collaborate all the time in this industry by asking, observing, and adjusting their approach for more effective relationships and results.

Everybody, no matter how strong, will experience a blow to their emotional well-being at some point in their life—losing a loved one, going through a breakup, or battling an illness or other situation—that requires them to stabilize the emotional balance between their body, mind, and spirit. In current times, fragility is at a whole other level, with our societal structure under attack in America and throughout the world. If it is a tough time for you right now, it is okay to share vulnerability. It is not okay to hide or behave badly. Your employment success is equally tactile (the tasks of the job) and relational (your ability to work with others). How are you doing these days? We are always here to listen and help if we can.

To Your Gentle Character,

Suzanne Breistol


1 Comment
  • Steve Fales

    These are tremendous concepts, Suzanne. You’re right – it is super important to remember that those in the workplace are much more than “employers” and “employees.” As you say, they are individuals with both challenges and joys. Yes, the work needs to get done, and it will actually get done much more effectively, and we’ll all be much more content, if we support one another along the way.

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