The other day my daughter described something in her life that sounded like a problem. When she finished I remained quiet, processing what she’d said. She then went on to say, “You don’t need to solve it, I just needed to say it.” I was quite relieved! I had been thinking, “I don’t know what to suggest. What should I say?”
Her talking through the issue, and me hearing her, was far more important than her getting a solution at that point in time. For many of us that is a strange way of thinking. We are accustomed to going straight into solution mode.
Very often better solutions would be found if we first allowed more time for people to express their needs and feelings. We could be more helpful by asking some questions which focussed their thoughts. And, in giving them the time to think out loud, they may find their own solution, or just the acceptance of what is. This applies both at home and at work.
During a workshop I was facilitating for managers we practised Fierce Conversations. These are structured conversations that allow us to confront tough issues with courage, compassion and skill.In this ten step method we name the issue in step one but we only talk about any sort of solution in step nine!
The delegates really struggled with this. They kept jumping to the solution before clarifying how they felt about it, or what was at stake, or eliciting the other person’s viewpoint. They also wanted to present the other person with the solution instead of allowing them to make suggestions.
If the problem is ‘solved’ in this manner the opportunity to be aware of alternative perspectives is missed. The other person hasn’t developed any of their own problem solving skills. And very often they are unwilling to change their behaviour to adopt your chosen solution.
I myself am a solution oriented person. I have had to work very hard at listening, asking appropriate questions and allowing others to find answers for themselves. However the results when I get it right are so exciting. The other person feels so much better about their own abilities, they often come up with amazing ideas and they are far more likely to go ahead and implement those ideas with enthusiasm.
There are of course times when you are in fact responsible for finding a solution, especially in a work environment. Even then the results maybe better if you involve a group of people in the discussion to find a solution. Letting go of the need to always have the solutions can be a big relief.
A possible new approach is:
Does this situation require a solution?
NO - Then I can simply listen with empathy.
OR YES - Then is it really necessary for me to solve it all by myself
YES - Solve it!
NO - What questions can I ask? (which will help the other person, or a group of us, to come up with some ideas to explore)