Periodically my Dad would sit me down and ask the question — a pure fishing expedition. He usually didn't "know" anything. I would spill my guts right then and there — all the typical petty crimes and misdemeanors of a teenage boy.
We would have a talk and get things straightened out, though I always wondered how my Dad "knew" so much about me.
Spilling one's guts may be counter-intuitive, especially when facing a suspicious parent. When something becomes overwhelming or starts to go south, even if it's not our fault, we often try to fix it, hide it or ignore it. If we're lucky, fixing it works. If it matters enough to hide, it's probably too big to hide and somebody finds out anyway. And things ignored often come back to haunt us later.
Over the years, I've tried to convince my restaurant teams that's it's best to let it all hang out! I would much rather know about a problem (or potential problem) as soon as it occurs, then let the problem go unaddressed and risk a customer walking out the door unhappy. As Benjamin Franklin said,
"Glass, china and reputations are easily crack'd, and never well mended."
For example, I used to come in from the office at lunchtime to find a bar packed and one cocktail waitress trying to take care of everyone. What was her logic for not asking for help? "If I don't share the customers, I won't have to share the tips." But the reality is that too many customers = bad service. Bad service = lower tips. We'd prefer to know about the situation so we could assign someone to help her out. Our logic?
"Better service = happier customers = higher tips — for everyone."
Another example is the server/guest conflict. Maybe the server is having an off night. Maybe the customer had a bad day. It doesn't really matter who "started it." What matters is that the server inform the manager on duty that there's a potential problem allowing the manager to take over at the table or assign another server before things escalate. It's a chemistry thing, and in some cases there's no getting it right.
Have you cultivated a workplace in which employees can come to you when there's a problem? Have you discussed these types of scenarios with your team, and explained why it's so important for them to address the issue up-front? Communication. It's the ultimate tool. Talk to your employees and get their input. Reiterate that it's not about blame, competence, or petty politics. It's about getting the job done right — as a team. You can't fix things if you don't know they're broken.