Get to Know Your Report’s Life Story

I’ve been humbled again and again by the simple fact that we bring our whole selves to work. A rough morning commute leaves you on edge. A catch-up call with a friend has you running high on life. A tough family situation saps focus and creativity. Joy or challenge, these events impact our work.

Illustration of person working at a computer, surrounding by the other things that are on their mind: bills, traffic jam, relationships, etc.

Obvious, right?! We’re humans after all. But it can be easy to forget such factors amid the day to day of our working lives. As a manager, lacking this context can cause blind spots when you assess a report’s performance.

This context is hard to get in the moment. It’s a lot to ask someone to open up about a challenge they’re facing in their personal lives. But the foundation for this context can be built over time, and it starts with a simple conversation.

In a Firstround Review article on career conversations, Russ Laraway offers a simple prompt to start opening this door with your team. Book an hour with a report, maybe over a coffee, and start the conversation with this line:

Starting with kindergarten, tell me about your life.

We spend the majority of our waking lives with our coworkers, yet we often know so little about them. With this one sentence, you’ll gain a little more understanding of how your team member approaches the world. A dash of context you can reference whenever you need.

And if you feel like this is a tall ask of someone on your team, go first. Share your life story with them.

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Originally published at Manager Companion.