Continuation from previous post  „ABOUT LOVE & HATE“ : … I asked him what would happen if the employee declined, whether there were any other candidates that would be suitable for the project.  He replied: “No, I have to convince him. If he declines, I’m going to have a real problem.”  I played the employee…


The role play started with the trainee enthusiastically presenting the important project in Chicago.

I showed little excitement (which already made him visibly nervous), I displayed defensive body language and interrupted him after two minutes with the words:

“That all sounds very nice, but I actually wanted to ask you today whether I could apply for a three-month sabbatical and then reduce my working hours to 80% for the next two years.”

Silence – outside.
Noise – in his mind.
Rapid eye movement.
High blink rate.
No eye contact.

The participant did not say a single thing about what I had just said and simply repeated the advantages of the project — this time more mechanically.

Clouded thinking.

When he was finished with his repetitions, I quietly answered:

“I can’t do it. I’m sorry.”

Finally came the most important question in the world:

“Why not?”

A glimmer of empathy? A tiny pinch of interest? Sadly not, because the tone of voice was annoyed rather than empathetic — so I presented him with another small obstacle:

“I would prefer not to speak about that. But it would be very important to me personally to at least keep the sabbatical.”

Four bell-ringing-words:

prefer — very — personally —at least.

No more empathy whatsoever, which was superficial anyway.

The participant, who was my boss in the role play, did not recognise any of the associations that were connected to my words:

  • Embarrassment (prefer)
  • Exceptional situation (very)
  • Distrust (personally)
  • Ready for concessions (at least)

He just said:

“Ok, I understand.”


And he continued:

“Have I mentioned that your salary would increase by 20% if you take on the project? And you will get a company car!”

As if that would interest me in my current situation.
If he had shown real empathy and if the following words:


had not been written in big letters on his forehead, I would have told him, and he would have truly understood, that my son had recently been diagnosed with a rare illness, which meant that my family would have to spend ten weeks at a clinic in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

He could have easily found this out, if I had not had the impression that he only cared about his ambitions and he simply wanted to lure me with money.

He could have put his documents to one side, leaned across the table and could have said:

“I understand that you don’t want to speak about it. But I am honestly concerned about you. Today you seem very down. Maybe I can help. Is everything alright at home?”

“No, my private life is a bit complicated right now…”

That would have been the solution.

Then we would have postponed the project by three months, to the time after my sabbatical; I would not have been able to move to Chicago afterwards, but from my location at the time I could have worked on the project and spent one day a week in Chicago.


The trainee preferred sticks and carrots. He increased the pressure on me, which he himself felt:

“After the project in Chicago we can happily discuss a sabbatical, but right now we should concentrate on the project. You want to be promoted, don’t you? But that will only happen if you take on the project and complete it successfully.”

Ultimatum. Apparently that works a treat every time…

His subconscious had long since taken control:

“Save your own career!” it screamed. And that involved hidden threats and other tactics.

So I had a choice:

  • Option 1: no sabbatical + promotion.
  • Option 2: sabbatical + no promotion.

Unfortunately Option 1 was not an option for me.

If this conversation had happened like this in reality, I would have immediately spoken to Human Resources and resigned.

  • Impasse.
  • Family first.
  • Of course.
  • Result: lose-lose.

The participant was extremely shocked when I later told him the real reason for my desired sabbatical. He hid his face in both hands, leaned on his elbows and shouted at himself:

“Oh my God!”

That’s not going to help him now either.

You can imagine how he continued:

“But I couldn‘t know that!”

“Right! And why not? Because you showed no interest and only thought of your own ambitions.”

“Yes, but…”

… this sentence start shows that the person has not really absorbed what was said — even after this role play fiasco

“…why didn’t you say anything?”

he asked.

“I told you I need a sabbatical.”

“Yes, but you didn’t say WHY you need it!”

“Did you ask me about that? You really think that the employee is going to pour his heart out to his boss, who has shown absolutely no interest in him? I told you officially that I am applying for a sabbatical. I did not have to tell you why. I did not tell you because you acted like a PEOPLE HATER in the role play.”

“But I’m not a PEOPLE HATER! I like people and I value my colleagues!”

“But you act like one. Glance to the left at your colleague Jeff. How long have you known Jeff?”

“About seven years”

he answered.

“Seven years is a long time. What do you think is Jeff’s greatest passion?”


“No. I don’t mean his favorite hobby, I also don’t mean his love for family or his other interests. What is Jeff’s passion? What makes his heart sing? What fills his daydreams? What does he long for?”

“No idea! But that is surely not very relevant in business! The main thing is that we work well together!”

“If it isn’t relevant, then why are you so angry that I did not tell you what my problem is? The point is, it may interest you, but only as long as you don’t feel any emotional pressure. As soon as you notice this feeling, then ‘honest interest’ and ‘empathy’ go out the window and you replace it with your ‚protective ego‘. And that is your current mindset.


The best thing about full-time empathisers (PEOPLE LOVERS) is that they engage in real value creation. You could have created value in the role play — think of the finished project in Chicago, the promotion of your employee, your own promotion and much more.

With your conduct you destroyed value. You have (in the role play) invested ten years into this employee. Now he is gone! He will resign. He has to resign. That will cost your company more than 200,000 dollars including induction of a new employee. And you can forget about the project in Chicago.

Empathy and real interest do not have anything to do with being soft or with weak leadership — nor with friendliness.


In addition, the conduct of PEOPLE LOVERS creates something priceless: trust.




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How a shocking statement of a trainee at the joint seminar-dinner led to an eye-opening discussion about personal ethics.

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