Get both sides of the story before you take action on an employee dispute

It would appear that these dog treats are made with beef. They are. But there is more to the story.

It would appear that these dog treats are made with beef. They are. But there is more to the story.

Even if you think the situation is already clear-cut

On occasion, an employee will come to you, as the manager, with an issue about another employee. After hearing the story, you want to fix the problem (a good thing!) and immediately take action based on this information.

Fast action is the right course, but make sure the first thing you do is to get all sides of the story. Dig down, be curious, and uncover all the facts before you make your final judgment.

A former manager and mentor of mine once told me, “There are two sides to every story, and some truth to both.” Your job is to understand both perspectives and create a solution that is appropriate based on both stories, not just one.

The downsides of acting without all the information:

  • You send a message that one person’s opinion is more valued that others
  • You pursue a solution that is inappropriate to what happened
  • You may think it’s saving time by moving fast, but it can backfire with much larger implications when done wrong

The upsides of getting both sides of the story:

  • It’s more accurate!
  • You build trust and respect from the entire team that you are fair to all
  • You can create a better solution to the problem
  • By involving everyone in the process, you help them build skills to resolve conflicts on their own
  • You are a role model for how others should troubleshoot issues

All these make sense, right? But it’s so easy to plow ahead when you find yourself in the midst of something that seems obvious, when you hear something that’s so simple or plain that it doesn’t seem necessary to pursue.

This list of ingredients tells a different story than the copy on the front of the box tells one story. Do both have some truth? Yes. However, you make a different choice with more data.

This list of ingredients tells a different story than the copy on the front of the box. Do both versions have some truth? Yes. However, one without the other is incomplete and led to the wrong choice.

Let’s say, for example, you wanted to buy a box of dog treats. That seems like a simple enough undertaking. But I’ve found out that you need to dig through surface information even on something as innocuous as choosing a dog biscuit. Grace is allergic to chicken products, and while a good friend was watching Grace recently, she, being the thoughtful and generous person that she is, bought her a box of treats. In the largest font on the front of the box, it said: “Crispy dog snacks … made with beef and cheese. ” There was no mention of chicken. So this certainly seems like this would be an appropriate choice for a dog that loves beef and is allergic to chicken.

Unfortunately, like many things, what appears to be the “whole truth” on the surface is not the entire story.

When looking at the list of ingredients, you’ll find chicken as the sixth item and beef falling much lower, at the 11th spot. Just like in human food products, ingredients are listed in the descending order of amount contained. So while the marketing copy on the front of the box was technically correct — there is beef in the biscuit — there isn’t much of it compared to how much chicken is in there. So whatever reason the manufacturer had (I guess beef sounds more savory than chicken??), they provided only part of a story. Of course, not all dogs have problems digesting chicken so it’s wouldn’t always be such a sensitive situation (aside from the fact that most of the other primary ingredients are neither nutritious nor appropriate for dogs, but that’s another story!). Even in seemingly benign situations, you need to do your homework.

Managers need to protect and preserve fairness and accuracy in handling all employee disputes. To accomplish that, you need to understand all perspectives before taking any action. 

Or else you might end up eating chicken when you thought you had beef!

I’d love to hear stories of when it has benefited you to get both sides of the stories. Leave a comment here for us all to learn together.

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  1. Renee on April 10, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Great post as always, Robin. And good “food for thought” — for both canines and humans. Keeping with your list of ingredients theme, I would offer up one more thing to consider. Keep it short or concise. Dr. Weil, Michael Pollan, and others suggest that, in order to keep to a more pure or natural way of eating, we should seek to buy products that have not more than five ingredients listed and, of those ingredients, that we can ascertain what they are. I think that this folds in nicely with your advice regarding “plow[ing] ahead when you find yourself in the midst of something that seems obvious.” The ingredients aren’t always obvious or by keeping to the simplest of facts (those things that we can gain mutual understanding), we have a better chance of knowing what we are “digesting” or processing.

    In the meantime, I think I might go and check out the ingredients on our dog biscuits. Want to be sure that we’re provide our pups with the simplest and freshest treats!

    • Robin on April 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Oh my gosh, this is brilliant, Renee! I love the idea of simplifying our approach — whether in resolving conflict or choosing our foods — by doing something as simple as counting ingredients! I’m so happy you offered this suggestion; it’s wise to keep things simple and you’ve shared a great way for us to accomplish it. Thanks again.

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