(originally published March 12th, 2005)

Friday was the day of my wife’s father’s funeral. During the ride from the church to the cemetary, the woman he lived with for almost 40 years asked his oldest daughter, my wife’s stepsister, if she thought he looked good, because he’d had an autopsy done and they had to take care to hide any obvious scarring.

The sister replied “No, I don’t think he looked good at all. He didn’t look like my father at all; I didn’t recognize him. I’m sorry, but you asked my opinion.”

I thought about this one for awhile afterwards, because there were many things going on at the time, and in an odd way they all apply to management. One, understanding that emotions were high, was the response given necessarily proper? Personally, I don’t think so, but I understand it. In management, sometimes the person in a leadership position is under a great deal of stress, and they tend not to respond to questions in a proper way.

Two, with the second person under her own stress, is it fully forgiveable for what she said, or was there anything wrong about what she said, or is there anything to forgive? This one is more difficult. There were other people in the limousine, and everyone felt immediately uncomfortable. It was an honest emotion, but better word choices could have been used. And the person asking the question, though she wasn’t in a proper frame of mind either, probably shouldn’t have asked that kind of question without fully understanding the emotion that the daughter might have been going through. She was looking for an answer she thought she knew was coming, and it didn’t come, and she wasn’t prepared for any other response. And it was putting a person on the spot in front of other people; major management faux pas. My wife's stepsister wasn’t in a proper frame of mind to give a proper answer; sometimes, employees aren’t ready to respond to something you ask them in the way you’re looking for, or may not give you the answer you’re looking for. If you’re not prepared, things could go awry, and feelings could be hurt.

Three, should someone else have stepped in and changed the mood? Another tough one, but in this case I’d have to say no. I have some background history on this one, which is why it’s easier for me to answer the way I did. There wasn’t anyone in the limousine who could have made that situation any better, including me. Any response whatsoever would have escalated into an argument; that wasn’t the place or the time for it. Later on, when emotions weren’t as high, they were talking well enough. Sometimes a manager has to take a strong lead in ending a dispute, but at other times a manager has to be ready for something to happen, yet not step in, and see what might occur. Nothing else took place in this instance, but I believe everyone in the limousine was ready to do or say whatever might have been necessary, if things had gone badly.

There are many business lessons that can be learned from personal situations. All one has to do is pay attention and learn from the experience.