Feel, Felt, Found (or how to deal with difficult people)

Recently I attended an in-service training day at the community college where I teach anthropology.  This is interesting because A) they brought in a corporate communication coach to talk to us about dealing with difficult people and B) I relayed the coach’s strategies to my mother.

The coach didn’t say “dealing with difficult people” of course.  She said “acknowledging and addressing the needs of your students” (or something like that) and proceeded to explain a three-prong acknowledge-and-address approach:

Step 1) “Feel”

Step 2) “Felt”

Step 3) “Found”

Basically, when a student comes to you with a problem or a complaint or a request that you “stop using big words” in your lectures, you sit them down, look them in the eyes and say, “I understand.  You feel frustrated because you didn’t know we had a test today.”

This lets them know that you hear them, that you are on their side.  Once you’ve made this initial connection, you move on to Step 2.

This is when you let them know they’re not alone by saying, “Others have felt the same way.”  (Note: it is unhelpful at this point to say things like, “Maybe if you had come to class, or checked your email or read your syllabus, you would have known we had a test today.”  You should save these sorts of comments for Step 3.)

In Step 3 you get to offer a solution.  But it’s veiled as a “success story.”  For example, you can say things like, “My students have often found that if they read their syllabus before class, they aren’t surprised when they have an exam” or “We have found that students who check their college email account have a better idea what is expected of them in class.”

When the corporate communication coach was taking us through her Feel, Felt, Found PowerPoint, my initial reaction was, “This is bullsh*t.  There is no way I am ever going to use this.”

But then I tried it.  And you know what?  It worked.  I’ve been able to convince my students to actually complete the assigned reading, to study before their exams, to practice when they have to give an oral report, and so on.  The best part is that whenever I share a “success story,” the student in question has a total epiphany and says, “Oh! Yeah, I guess I could do that!”  They get all smiley and walk away thinking that they’ve just stumbled upon the greatest idea in the history of the universe, when in fact it was skillfully implanted by Yours Truly.

I still have plenty of students who are beyond the reaches of the Feel, Felt, Found system mainly because they’d prefer to text message their friends during class or go on vacation halfway through the semester, but those who take the time to come to me with their problems seem to do better in the long run.  (And yes, I actually have the test scores to prove it.)

My mother, mind you, does not teach at a community college but I figured I’d share the genius of the Feel, Felt, Found system so that she could adapt to her own purposes.

A family member, for example, took my grandmother to visit for a month, only to lose three-months worth of Alzheimer’s meds within two hours of taking custody.  In her infinite wisdom, said relative also filled my grandmother’s suitcase with Bath and Body Works lotions for the return flight, instead of her clothing because we don’t have Bath and Body Works paraphernalia in the basement…

My mom decided to try her hand at the Feel, Felt, Found approach while folding laundry earlier this week.  It went a little something like this:

Mom: I feel like she’s an idiot!

Me: That’s not it.  You’re supposed to talk to her.

Mom: Fine.  “I feel like you’re an idiot!”

Me: You can’t call someone an idiot when you’re using Feel, Felt, Found.  It closes the lines of communication.

Mom: Okay.  How about, “I’m sorry you’re such an idiot?  I’m sorry I feel like you’re an idiot?”

Me: No.

Mom: Others have felt that you’re an idiot too?

Me: No.

Mom: What about, “Others have found that if a person comes to visit you with a suitcase full of clothes, they should return with a suitcase full of clothes?”

Me: That’s a little bit better.

She still hasn’t gotten the hang of it but she’s practicing.  Every once in a while (especially if she’s just received an email from my aunt or a call from the insurance company) she’ll shout down the hallway, “I feel like you are driving me crazy!  Other have felt this too!  We have found that if you weren’t such a pain in the ass, you wouldn’t have such a miserable life!”

She’s not quite there yet, but I have hope.

12 Responses to “Feel, Felt, Found (or how to deal with difficult people)”

  1. Landlord

    I really am trying, and just can’t seem to do this the correct way, I even looked it up on youtube because I understand how well it could work, and listen to you do it so easily…sheesh, I’m hopeless…dealing w/ family members right now is just too daunting, but I will continue to try as I am always trying to work towards a more peaceful existence.

  2. Laurie

    Landlord, I FEEL your frustration. I have FELT that others are idiots too (more often than I care to admit), and I have FOUND that the best way to deal with these feelings is to vent to someone who cares. You guys are so lucky to have each other!

  3. Monica

    OMG Loved it! 🙂 I come across “difficult people” all the time and I shall try to put your words into practice, though I feel like I’m going to perform it pretty much the same way as your mom did. 😉

  4. strawberryquicksand

    Ohhh, too funny. That was part of the training I received at the bank I used to work at. I feel that it was not that effective. Others felt the same, but I found that if I perservere… nope.doesn’t work.

  5. Ashana M

    Great advice here. Unfortunately, I think it’s a bit backwards. This is how to deal with average people when they are being difficult. Dealing with truly difficult people is an entirely different story. These come in different types, and how you deal with them depends on what type they are.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: