What do you do when a direct report comes to you with an interpersonal conflict you didn't witness? How do you react when you see a performance issue developing in someone you don't manage? What advice do you give when someone is at a crossroads?
Often times, the most productive way to respond—both for yourself and for your associate—is by engaging in a coaching-style conversation. With a coaching conversation, you don't offer advice of your own—you guide people to assist themselves. When you believe they have the ability to do so, you open up their ability to steer themselves in the right direction.
Let them talk as much as they need to and hear them out completely. Sometimes talking it out is all that is needed and people will begin to problem solve by themselves during the conversation. Ask questions that allow you to better understand the situation, but refrain from making any judgments. Ask about both their thoughts and their feelings related to the situation. Your questions will reframe the problem and allow it to be seen from a fresh perspective.
When faced with a difficult situation and emotions run high, it is a natural response for people to initially go into victim mode or even the opposite—to act in an aggressive manner. ‘It’s not my fault’ and ‘they did this’ and complaints along with excuses after excuses. But the goal is to move out of this mentality within a reasonable timeframe and move toward a solution by approaching the problem calmly and logically. This does not happen if people around you enable inaction and encourage the existing thought pattern.
Pull them out of the weeds and refocus them on the big picture: What are your goals related to this? If it’s someone else that is the problem, empower them to consider: what can YOU do? When all else fails, a useful technique is to take out a sheet of paper and analyze the situation on paper to get a more objective point of view. There are many tools available for this: a simple Pro/Con list, the Eisenhower Method, or a SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) quadrant.
Last, move towards action planning. Nothing will change if the person doesn’t act or behave differently. And the same problem will arise again and again, masked as a new and unique issue if the person doesn’t change their habits. Brainstorm together to create many options for action. What can they do if a similar situation occurs next week? What could they do differently to prevent recurrence? This is a noncommittal way to try out different solutions and prepare for change. Our habits are usually there because we don’t think—we just do. Creating options makes it more likely that a different choice is made in the future.