I had wolfed down my dinner without saying much. As soon as everyone was done eating, our three kids, all pretty young at the time, had run off to do their homework and play. My wife had given them a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card and they were smart, they ran as soon as she had brought it up, just on the outside chance that she took it away. With just the two of us cleaning up the kitchen, my wife was doing her best to bring me out of my work stupor.
She kept asking me questions. I wasn’t having it. My response to everything she asked was curt and to the point. Yes, my day was fine. Yes, the sunset was nice. No, I wasn’t tired. My wife continued to pressure me for a response. I instinctively got angry, yelling that I was fine. I looked up in time to see that my response had hurt her and felt like a heal.
Getting to the heart of the matter
I tried to make it up to her, telling her I was sorry and that I was just worried about work. I was used to being a listening ear, letting my wife talk about her classroom. In return, I rarely talked about my own work worries. This time, though, I told her that I was having problems with one of the people who reported to me. He had done a lot of great work in the past, but over the past several months had missed several key deadlines. He was coming in late and, when he was there, he seemed out of it.
My wife started asking questions about the situation. Why was the employee messing up? How late was he with his deadlines? What was going on? Were there any extenuating circumstances? Was he having problems outside of work? And she didn’t stop, she was analyzing the situation like a teacher.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the answers. She questioned why I was so hard on the guy if I didn’t know. “You tell me to know my kids, you need to know your team.”
Asking the right questions
She had me. I went to work the next day with a new attitude to listen first. As soon as I got to the office, I pulled my team member aside and asked what was going on and this time I listened. We had a long conversation with sharing on both our parts.
I learned that he had been facing a number of challenges outside of work. Together we worked on a plan that offered him the time out of the office that he needed and met the needs of our team. I told him where his work needed to get better and offered a few ideas.
When we went back to our desks, we shook hands and agreed to talk again in a few days. Fortunately, his performance improved almost immediately. Thanks to his hard work and the trust that grew between us, he ended up becoming a good friend.
I have my wife to thank for helping me to see the full picture.