Stop Baking Cookies! Ask Open-Ended Questions to Allow Others to Resolve Conflict

It’s tempting to “help” others by offering advice on resolving conflict (doing the work for them).

The challenge with this approach is that, once you “take care of it,” they are likely to assume you’ll resolve all subsequent issues. (It’s as though you have baked a tray of delicious cookies, and as we know, one simply isn’t enough.) Unless you are a professional baker, stop baking cookies for everyone. Teach others to bake (or resolve their own conflicts) by asking powerful open-ended coaching questions.

The next time a team member or peer wants you to resolve a conflict for them, put on your “coach hat,” (leaving the baker hat behind) and ask the following open-ended questions. The objective is to help others generate answers and insights rather than you directing them. Before the coaching session, ask the person to first review the following:

During the coaching session, use these open-ended questions to dive deeper.

Probing Questions/Statements (designed to help the person reflect on assumptions/facts):

  • Tell me more about the situation.
  • What neutral information do you have about the situation/person?
  • How did you uncover this information?
  • What assumptions might affect how you see this situation/person?
  • How might the other person view the situations?

Challenging Questions (designed to help the person consider all options and assumptions before moving forward):

  • What if you’re wrong?
  • How might the other person(s) view the situation?
  • What details/issues may be contributing to the situation?

Options/Solutions Questions (designed to help the other person consider options and possibilities):

  • What does your version of the best-case scenario look like?
  • What does your version of the worst-case scenario look like?
  • If you can’t have exactly what you want, what would you be happy with?
  • What would it take for you to let this go completely?

Action Questions/Statements (designed to help the person move into action):

  • What steps do you need to take next?
  • Who do you need to approach/talk with to ensure the next steps are aligned well?
  • If you couldn’t take that step, what would you do?

After the session, ask them to share their action steps for addressing or resolving the conflict. Either offer support and encouragement or set up a check-in session to reflect on “lessons learned.”

At the end of the day, it’s better to have your own reliable cookie recipe than to rely on another baker.