We’re often very quick to tell people what to do. It seems easy and effective. “You have a problem; I have the solution.” Someone comes to me with a problem and I give the solution. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?
During a crisis, quick problem-solving is usually in order. But in the daily routine of life and business, the tendency to solve other people’s problems too quickly can actually be detrimental.
The feedback on last month’s newsletter, Do You Have a Listening Strategy, was very favorable and prompted a little more thinking on my end regarding so-called problem-solving and the genuine skill of asking powerful questions.
As a leader and a coach, my ultimate objective is to strengthen people’s functioning. No one is helped when a leader constantly does the work of thinking for others. It’s called “over-functioning.” And when someone is over-functioning, it implies that someone else is under-functioning.
By solving other people’s problems too quickly we potentially limit their growth; they don’t develop the necessary “muscles” for themselves. So, when someone comes to you with an issue, consider these further listening strategies:
- Resist the immediate temptation to try to solve the problem.
- Get clarity about what the person is wanting from you. Ask first, “are you wanting help to solve this issue or are you simply wanting to vent.”
- Get interested and curious by asking relevant, probing questions. These typically are in the form of: Who? What? Where? When? How?
- By asking questions you’re getting the person to THINK. Let him begin using his own pre-frontal cortex.
- If he’s looking for help with a solution, begin leading him to possible solutions by asking questions such as: “In your opinion, what are the key points?” “What do you believe the possible solutions are?”
- Only after this kind of due-diligence should you then offer some thoughts of your own. And ask permission first; don’t assume.
Effective leaders develop high functioning employees. More time consuming? Yes. Is it worth it in the long run? You be the judge.
If Someone is Upset
Here’s a tactic that police and emergency responders use all the time. If someone is upset, start asking him questions. Physiologically, the flow of blood has to move from the anxious, reactive part of the brain to the thinking part in order for someone to answer questions. The very act of having to answer questions has an immediate calming effect.