“WHY?” A Simple But Profound Question
By Carmel O’ Reilly
Case Study/Back Story
Chris works in the Hotel and Leisure Industry, he’s quite an easy going person, gets on well with people and is a good team player. Some time ago Kate joined his team and, from the very beginning, she just didn’t gel with Chris. It was actually more than not gelling, she seemed to go out of her way to be uncooperative, was openly critical of any ideas Chris put forward at meetings, he found her quite disrespectful and difficult to work with.
He tried to get on with his work by interacting with her as little as he needed to, but it was a small team and being the hotel industry he spent long hours in his job, which meant long hours in her company. It soon came to a head, and he knew he had to do something about it.
One day when they were alone, he said to her:
“Do you have a minute?”
Kate glanced at him, didn’t respond and carried on with what she was doing.
Chris knew he had to follow through, he asked her: “Why?”
“Why?” Kate stopped what she was doing, and from a very obvious place of irritation, she asked “what do you mean why? Why what?”
Chris answered:’’Why do you behave in the way you do towards me?”
“What are you talking about?” Kate snapped.
Chris said: ‘’You always seem critical towards my ideas, I get a sense you’re irritated by me, as you seem to be now, I’m not sure if it’s something I’ve done or said, but it would help to know, because then perhaps we could find a way to work together. Our work means we have to spend a lot of time in each other’s company, and I think it’s important we try to make this work, not just for us, but for the morale of the team.”
Now Kate didn’t suddenly open up her heart to Chris, she didn’t offer an explanation or apologise for her behaviour, she actually didn’t say anything, maybe she didn’t know what to say, who knows.
Even so Chris was glad he’d addressed the matter, it was a brief interaction, and he felt he’d handled it in a professional way, and more importantly he got it out in the open by letting her know her behaviour was unacceptable to him, and that he was willing to find a way to work together.
Although Kate didn’t respond initially to Chris, her behaviour towards him did change, she wasn’t so critical of his ideas, they began to work together more cooperatively and, while I don’t think they’ll ever be best friends they’re actually getting on ok.
The situation Chris found himself in is not so unusual and, it’s one I hear in some shape or form time and time again in my conversations with clients and with friends. Some people will think: well I’ll put up with this person, situation while I’m at work and then I can put it out of my mind once I’m outside of work. The thing is we spend so much of our time working, that’s not always possible or indeed good for our health and well-being.
Working with someone who has a de-motivating impact on an individual or team can ruin morale and, it’s important not to let a bad situation fester. I think by asking the simple question “Why’” we can open up awareness to there being a problem and, get the message across that the behaviour is not acceptable and something needs to change. All of this from one question is quite powerful I think.
Published with client permission. Names have been changed.
“Do You Have A Minute?” is our series of Feedback & Career Coaching Conversations.
Communication Strategies For Every Day Performance Development designed to help develop better work and working relationships.