Not ‘What’s your problem?’ but ‘What’s your preferred situation?’
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Not ‘What’s your problem?’ but ‘What’s your preferred situation?’

If you want to help an employee with a problem, how about pretending there isn’t one?

Before you shout “No!”, understand that we’re not suggesting managers sweep employees’ behavior or performance issues under the rug.

The idea is that you can best help employees deal with a problem if you frame the discussion another way.

Where they want to be
That way: the “preferred situation.” When you go this route, you focus on helping the employee get where she would like to be. And if she gets there, the problem will have disappeared.

There are good reasons to avoid the “problem/solution” paradigm. For one, employees are often reluctant to admit a problem, and you spend time and energy coaxing them to acknowledge it.

Here’s how a “preferred situation” conversation might go:

Manager: “So you’ve been absent a lot lately.”

Employee: “I guess so.”

Manager: “How would you like your attendance record to look?”

Employee: “I’d like to have a good record.”

Manager: “Well, there are a couple of ways we can get you to that situation. Let’s talk about them.”

Of course, if an employee doesn’t respond to the preferred situation approach, you may need to go down the road of “This is a problem,” with all the attendant angst and possibly threats of disciplinary action. But you may be surprised how often the less confrontational way works.

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