Managing People: 3 Powerful Questions

Managing people in the workplace is tough.  One matter that can consume a lot of time and energy is when you have two people on the team who are at odds with one another.  

Complaints and accusations, he did this and she said that... some parts valid and other pieces exaggerated.  The entire situation is complicated, upsetting and disruptive to the individuals involved and the teammates who work nearby.  

As the manager, you want to help your employees put the issue behind them and get back to work.  This involves hearing both sides and mediating agreements about how the pair will interact with each other in a respectful and compassionate manner going forward.

I was at a training seminar this week where the facilitator offered three questions that I believe can work well in this all-too-common situation.  

  1. What is it you need to work professionally with ____?
  2. What are you willing to do differently? 
  3. What should happen if you break the agreement?

These inquiries are well positioned to get the individuals to identify what they really want without getting lost in their story or complaint.  They invite each employee to identify how he or she contributed to the dysfunction.  (It takes two, right?)  Furthermore, the conversation is forward-oriented by finding mutual agreement about what happens next if there is no improvement.  

There is no magic bullet to being a good people manager or solving every employee relations issue.  Every day we look for tips and tools that help us be more effective at our jobs and create environments that allow the teams we lead to work at optimal levels.  

Please Note:  This blog suggests tactics appropriate for relatively minor disagreements between employees.  Issues of harassment require specific investigation techniques and protocols mandated by employment law.