Solving conflict with a single question

At the end of the day, I lay my head down on the pillow and asked my wife, “So how’d it go?”

“Great,” she said.

My wife had been having problems with a senior employee who had stopped doing certain tasks because they weren’t on his specific ‘task list’.

Unfortunately, he refused to communicate directly on the issue and wouldn’t even meet her eyes in team meetings, so she didn’t know what had changed. Stressed out, she arranged a meeting with him to discuss what was going on.

As it turned out, my wife solved the issue with a question. She asked, “What do you need for me to do for you, for you to be successful?”

The employee almost cried and all the pressures and worries he had at work came tumbling out. They then put in place a plan to fix his issue.

My experience with the workplace over the last 25 years is that good can almost always come from bad – customer complaints lead to improvements in customer service, for example, or the departure of a good employee can ultimately result in better employment arrangements.

My wife has suffered under many terrible bosses who were either misogynistic or trying to prove their superiority. These are just some of the things she’s heard from bosses:

  • “It’s a team golf day. Blokes only though”;
  • “Don’t ever tell anything to HR – it will always get back to me immediately”;
  • “You role as a worker is to do whatever I tell you and make sure I look good.”

From these types of experiences, she has developed an approach where she sees her work as a manager, as a series of tasks she needs to accomplish, but people as the only tools she has. Keeping her people focussed, effective and motivated is a key to success.

So after all her bad experiences with managers, what a great manager my wife has become!

Her approach was, “I just explained to him that I couldn’t afford for him to fail, so what did he need from me to ensure he was successful?”

Win-win. I am very proud.

Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded: Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club and Flinders Pacific. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Vietnam and is the sole Australian representative of the City of London for Foreign Direct Investment. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.


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