Don’t Give Me Problems, Give Me Solutions
When you encounter any kind of problem, do you focus on the problem or do you focus on finding a possible solution?
This isn’t the type of question I ask myself every day, but a couple of days ago I was reminded of a phrase that I used to use on my kids when they would come to me asking for help with a situation. Inevitably this would be the type of question that they had a far better chance of getting an answer to than I ever would. After all, it has been a long time since I studied Grade 10 algebra and I never did know the conversion measurement of how much brown sugar to use in a muffin recipe when it was asking for white sugar and we had run out of that particular ingredient. But there they stood, asking me the question for which I had a 50/50 chance of being right (at best), and I was stumped. The only answer that came to mind was to smile and say “Don’t give me problems, give me solutions.” Well this wasn’t the answer that they were looking for because Dads are supposed to know the answer to everything, or at least to everything that Mom didn’t have the answer to. I remember sharing this story with a friend of mine, and he picked up the phrase and started using it with his kids. Apparently, on more than one occasion his kids were heard to say with a groan, “I know Dad, don’t give me problems, give me solutions.”
But it was what happened next that was interesting. Not literally next, but once they calmed down after yelling at me that they didn’t want to hear that phrase again. Realizing that Dad was doing his best to try to help but that he really didn’t have the answer they were looking for, seemed to get them more engaged. And in virtually every situation they would come up with a few options and a “best” solution that they could try. Even if the solution didn’t always work out – ok, I still don’t know the substitution ratio for brown sugar when we run out of white sugar, but let’s just say next time I’d use the solution of going to a neighbour’s to borrow the missing ingredient – the point was that they were engaged in finding a solution to the problem. They seemed to learn that there was always more than one possible solution to any problem, and they learned that they could be part of the solution. They also learned that sometimes they just might have to make a decision, not really knowing whether it would work out as expected. I like to think that this process has helped them establish and refine their problem solving and decision-making capabilities, and that will help them throughout their lives.
I found that the same approach has worked for me throughout my business career. Employees would come to me looking for assistance in reaching a solution to a particular scenario. Sometimes I could give a quick answer because I had seen similar things in the past, and in the interest of saving time this approach worked. But for the more challenging problems, I found that by getting the employee involved in finding an answer virtually always led to a better solution. After all, the employee probably knew the details of the situation much better, and had probably already thought through at least one solution. But what seemed to be happening was that the employee had a bit of fear in making the decision that they almost surely knew was best. The fear of making the wrong decision could leave them paralyzed with an inability to make any decision at all. I found that the process of engaging them in finding the solution, along with providing a bit of encouraging feedback, would help them develop their confidence over time.
In today’s world, I seem to hear a lot of people talking about problems and crises, spending a whole lot of energy sharing their stories with their colleagues. They complain about politics, world crises, their jobs, their relationships, their financial situation, their kids’ inability to clean up after themselves, the list goes on and on. But that’s where they stop, they just keep complaining about the problems. I want to walk over to them and say “Don’t give me problems, give me solutions”, and then walk away wishing that I could be a fly on the wall for the rest of the discussion. It strikes me that if we would pause and ask ourselves (and others) this question whenever a problem occurred, we would engage ourselves to become part of the solution, and we would come up with way better solutions.
I’ve written about belief systems in a few of my other blogs and suggested that we are never too small to make a difference, be it in our family, our jobs, our community, or the world. The reality is that we probably understand the problem, at least to a certain degree, and each of us probably has an idea of how to solve at least part of the problem. But maybe the same type of fear is holding us back from sharing our ideas even though we might just have the best solution. I believe that if we all looked at whatever problems that presented themselves with the attitude of not focusing on the problem, but rather focusing on potential solutions, that we would come up with solutions to whatever problems presented themselves, no matter how small or how big. And if we stepped away from our fear long enough to realize that we could be part of the solution, we would all be a lot better off.
Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution? When you encounter any kind of problem, will you focus on the problem or will you focus on finding a possible solution?
If you’d like to share an interesting “solution vs. problem” story, send it along to [email protected].