What’s in the case?

by | Apr 25, 2019

Many times, during my long career in HR, I have found myself trying to sort out a tricky workplace situation.

It takes time to examine everything from all the different points of view and really gain a deep understanding of the issue, what may have caused it and how it became ‘this’ matter.

I think we all know that at the heart of all workplace issues lies our ability to communicate effectively, or not.

If you want an example of how we communicate, sender to receiver, just think about the classic *Abbott and Costello sketch ‘who’s on first’ …

In the sketch, Abbott is identifying the players’ names on a baseball team for Costello. Costello interprets the situation as if Abbott is not responding and so he gets more frustrated. In fact, they both do, because they are both right in their own way. For example, the player on first base is named “Who” and so when Costello asks, “Who’s on first” Abbot agrees that he is, and so on. Lol!

So, thinking back to our workplace situation, it is totally understandable that we end up confused about what happened and people end up defending their own logic / argument/ corner.

The one thing we do know is that ‘we cannot not respond’. We do so in written, verbal and non-verbal ways.


Case in point

I was trained a long time ago that in most cases, when things go wrong, it comes down to whether someone can’t do something (capability) or they won’t do something (conduct / attitude). This lead me down the procedural route and to a forensic examination of the case in point. However, the fundamental thing I have found over time is that beyond examining what has happened and using procedures and processes to boot, it’s much more important and ultimately more productive to find out why someone has behaved as they have. What is the why?


Asking why takes you down the road to empathy and by using an empathic approach you can really get to the heart of the matter. Speaking to everyone involved and getting their perspective on things and trying to relate that to what has happened will help to find a proper resolution. If they see that you are enabling them to talk and you are prepared to really listen to them, they will tell you what lies at the heart of the matter. It is valuable time well spent, in the long run.


In that way, there are no winners or losers or players with no names.


*Abbott and Costello performed the classic “Who’s on first?” baseball sketch in their 1945 film “The Naughty Nineties”.

FYI: ‘Who’s’ on first base, ‘What’s’ on second base and ‘I don’t know’ is on third base.

Vanessa is a very experienced HR Professional with a career spanning over 30 years. Prior to setting up Imago HR she worked for many years as a senior HR leader, providing a compassionate and pragmatic approach to people management. Click on her website to find out more about the Imago HR service www.imagohr.com