Ask Wendy: Hunters vs Gatherers

Q: I manage two very talented employees. They each bring different things to the table, and the team has a nice skill balance. One is a vegetarian and the other is a hunter. Hunter isn’t pinning up pictures, but there is some hunting discussion going on. Veggie asked me, as their manager, to talk to Hunter about it. 

Should a manager get involved in these sorts of “lite” workplace clashes or should they encourage the workers to work it out?

Rather than should, let’s talk about when manager involvement makes sense. You want to stay in the space of coaching your team, rather than solving their problems. So, how to best do this?

One of my favorite coaching questions is “What have you already tried?” Asking Veggie what she has already tried is a great way to signal that you won’t taking on solving her problem, yet will help her find a solution herself.

Let’s imagine Veggie says she hasn’t done anything. It’s fair to ask her to take a run at this on her own first, and let her know that if it doesn’t work, you’ll stay involved. You can let her know you do understand this is an emotional situation. Ask what she’d like to see change. Is it zero mention of hunting? Less explicit discussions? Your role at this point is to help Veggie articulate her desired outcome.

If she says her goal is have Hunter pretend he doesn’t hunt, that is an extreme expectation you will need to help manage.  One way to frame that is to ask her to imagine she’s in Hunter’s shoes. Is she talking about kale constantly? Do their interactions have a joking tone, where Hunter might be caught off-guard with learning there is a problem at all? Has he only mentioned hunting a few times, and in the context of a once-in-a-lifetime hunting weekend? You’re preparing her to succeed as she leads the conversation with Hunter.

You may also need to remind her that no one is going to change anyone’s viewpoints in this scenario. The goal is create a work environment where everyone is comfortable – not to reach an agreement on which lifestyle choice is “best”.

After Veggie and Hunter have a conversation, it is your role to ask follow-up questions of Veggie. How did it go? Is she seeing a change from Hunter? If she’s not, you’ll need to determine if her request wasn’t clear, reasonable or if he just refuses to adjust.

My advice is now close to morphing into a choose-your-own adventure scenario! As a manager, your role is to coach and encourage your team to solve problems, not to solve the problems. You are trying to set up a team that only brings you ‘Problems’ with a capital P. Do this enough times and your team will know to come to you when they need advice and coaching, rather than bringing you more work to do.

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