Lesson 4: Surface and Satisfy Your Employee’s Needs During Impromptu Conversations
By being proactive and conducting regularly scheduled check-in conversations with your employees, you should significantly reduce the number of times employees seek you out informally to discuss problems.
But of course, what will still happen from time to time. When it does, you can show empathy for the employee’s situation and simultaneously focus the discussion on solutions by asking the following two questions from Stanier’s book:
1. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?”
After allowing the employee to explain the situation that caused her to seek you out, you can focus the direction of the conversation by asking this question. This shows that you have the employee’s needs and desires at heart, but it also focuses her on solutions.
2. The Lazy Question: “How can I help you?”
After turning the conversation toward solutions, ask this question. This allows the employee to retain agency over his own challenges while simultaneously showing that you’re willing to help him achieve a positive solution.
If all the employee wanted to do was blow off steam, this question will let you know that, as he’ll say something along the lines of, “Oh, I really don’t need any help with it. It just ticked me off.”
If he does need your help with the situation, he’ll be prompted to explain how that might look.
Here’s an example:
Hugh (employee, knocking on the open office door): “Hey, do you have a minute?”
Mary Ellen (manager): “Sure. What’s up?”
Hugh: “I wanted to talk to you about the project schedules.”
Mary Ellen: “What about them?”
Hugh: “Well, I think there needs to be more flexibility built into them. Every project is scheduled for three weeks, but the projects aren’t exactly alike. Some of them are more challenging than others.
“The last project I worked on was easier. I mean, I was done in two weeks and I found myself stretching things a bit just to not finish too early. I went ahead and got some other work done on a side project, but I kind of felt like I was slacking.
“And the project I’m on now, it’s a lot more challenging. The only way I can see getting it done in three weeks is to pull some late nights, and, as you know, I don’t get paid any extra for that extra work.”
Mary Ellen: “I definitely see your point. So, what do you want?”
Hugh: “I just want there to be some more flexibility in the project schedule.”
Mary Ellen: “It’s worth looking into. How can I help you?”
Hugh: “I guess I want you to talk to the project manager and see if he is open to the schedule being a little more flexible. You guys have regular meetings to talk about these things, right?”
Mary Ellen: “We do.”
Hugh: “Maybe there can be some kind of quick overview between the project managers and those who have to carry out the projects at the very beginning of each project, and a timeline can be set based on how challenging the project looks.”
Mary Ellen: “Interesting idea. I’ll make a note to bring it up at our next meeting and I’ll get back to you on what people think.”
Hugh: “Thanks! I appreciate you looking into it for me.”
Jot down these two questions on a notecard or Post-It and place it somewhere discreet on your desk, where you can glance at it as a reminder but nobody else is likely to see it.
When an employee knocks on your door and asks to talk to you about something, take a glance at your reminder so you’re prompted to use these two questions to direct the conversation.
After having tried these two questions a couple of times, go to the worksheet provided and write down how the conversations went. How did these questions work for guiding the conversations?