A Daily Dispatch from the Front Lines of Leadership.


The Spaghetti Sauce Question

This one can get tricky. Let’s say someone on your team has an embarrassing problem. Something that could detract from their credibility or acceptance by others. How should a leader approach the delicate feedback that is clearly needed?

First, what do we mean by embarrassing? Extremely bad breath comes to mind. Repeated flatulence. Unusual scratching. And a plethora of other things that we will leave to your imagination. 

Virtual calls have made these embarrassing habits stand out even more. People pick their faces and noses, play with their hair, clean their teeth— all while on camera. 

Confronting the habit directly is fraught with all sorts of dangers. Leaving the guilty party to suffer derision is not a great path, either. So, what should a leader do

Try the spaghetti sauce question

Lead with the statement: “If I had spaghetti sauce on my face and I was addressing a group of people, I would want you to tell me.”

Follow this with: “Would you want me to tell you, even though it might be awkward?”

Most will immediately offer an unflinching and exuberant, “Yes!” 

Follow this with one more question: “Are you sure? Because, metaphorically. there is a spaghetti sauce issue you might want to know about.”

By this point, the other party will beg you to tell them what embarrassing act or problem you might be referring to, and the conversation will follow naturally from there. 

You really would want me to tell you, right? 

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