We humans are problem-solving machines
As soon as we hear someone tell us about a problem we want to dive right in and sort it out for them, give them advice, tell them a story about what we did in a similar situation, commiserate, or suggest someone they should talk to who will be able to help.
What we usually do is miss the real problem completely. The problem a person is telling you about isn’t the real problem.
The real problem is how they are thinking about the problem
We’ve all heard Albert Einstein’s quote,
“A problem cannot be solved from the same level of thinking that created it.”
When we step into our automatic ‘fix it’ response to help someone solve a problem, we’re reinforcing the same level of thinking – thinking that clearly isn’t working.
When we try to solve someone else’s problem, we’re also sending them a deep, unconscious message. That message is, ‘You’re incapable of solving the problem, let me take over.’
I know that’s not our intention
I know we’re just trying to be helpful. Nevertheless, it often feeds our own ego to feel we’ve ‘nailed’ the problem.
What happens to a person’s problem-solving ability when we solve the problem for them? Nothing! They don’t learn anything. It’s like giving a man a fish, rather than teaching him to fish for himself.
But if we’re not to ‘help’ by solving the problem, what are we supposed to do?
The most important thing you can do for someone is to encourage them to think about their issue in a different way. While doing so won’t feed your ego in the same way that coming up with a solution can, you will assist a person with a problem to change their thinking. Remember; the problem isn’t the problem. The way the person is thinking about the problem is the real problem. This means that challenging their thinking about the problem will often lead them to their own solution.
How to encourage people to solve their own problems: Here are three ways you can do this
1. Reframe the problem or the situation
This means thinking about what the person with the problem might have missed, in their quest for a solution. This tactic demands good thinking skills and a quick mind. You, as a would-be ‘helper’ need to look at the issues from many angles to determine what the other person might be missing, that would help them find a solution. Identifying the ‘level’ of the problem will also help. Please see this article for more details.
2. Asking questions can often help
Questions that provoke the person’s own problem-solving abilities are important, not just, ‘Well have you thought about doing blah, blah, blah?’
Questions such as these can trigger new problem-solving capabilities:
- Have you had a similar problem in the past? If so, how did you solve that?
- How do you think another person (perhaps someone the person respects or who has particular abilities in the area of the person’s problem) would handle this?
- What would happen if you did nothing?
- If you did know how to solve it, what would you try?
- What would you do if you weren’t scared that it wouldn’t work?
- What would you advise me to do if I had the problem you have?
- What could you do differently?
- In what ways are you contributing to the problem – perhaps unintentionally?
- These types of questions stimulate the person to look beyond the problem or access new ways of thinking.
3. Encourage the person with the problem to get it out of their head
While it’s going round and round in their head, it’s doing nothing except making them dizzy and overwhelmed. Writing the problem down makes it easier to be objective and to examine the issues from different angles. Sometimes there are connections between different aspects of the problem that can lead to a resolution. Overcoming the overwhelm can reveal a new opportunity for resolution.
If you’re seen as the number one problem solver, guess what?
Everyone will come to you with their problems. That may boost your ego. However, by not solving a problem, but using some of the skills mentioned above, you’ll empower others to solve their own issues, building their own creativity, self-confidence and resilience in the process. That’s got be worth more that a quick ego boost.