Harmony Strategies

How to (un)solve problems

We face many decisions, challenges, and problems every day. From choosing our clothes, to our deadlines, to our children’s meals, we have to make myriad decisions in our lives. Most of these decisions (nay, all of them, if you ask an anthropologist) are driven by, informed by, and/or affect those around us. We have to keep in mind everyone else’s interests, when we make our decisions.

Those of us in leadership positions, from CEOs to parents, from non-profit lay leaders to board members, have even more decisions we need to make. And these decisions all involve many parties, affecting thousands or even tens of thousands of people (or more)! We are in the front seat, leading change or monitoring the status-quo for any potential pitfalls, constantly revising and problem-solving.

And whether you are a CEO or parenting an infant, there is a constant desire to control the outcome. We are programmed to lead and supervise and come up with inspiring ideas, and as leaders, we want to pat ourselves on the back for coming up with perfect solutions. So, when a problem arises, we eagerly seek the solution. We want to resolve the dispute quickly and easily, without much strife or losing time or energy.

But there’s a problem with us solving the problem.

We are human, and as such, limited by our own perceptions and intelligence. We cannot see beyond our own experience and (limited) ideas. We can’t see what we can’t see. So when we seek quick solutions, these are a) limited to our own knowledge/experience and b) whatever has been retrieved in our minds quickly. In short, the solution we ourselves come up with will be a very small piece of a pie of actual options… and what if those other options in the pie would have been better?

With this in mind, effective and truly-inspirational leaders, who have a long-term solution approach, will know that the key is not to solve the problem. Well, at least not alone. Rather than proposing solutions, they will solicit information and ideas from others. They will know to pull back and let friends, colleagues, and employees chip in. They will know how to listen to others and consider their perspectives. And they will know how to bring together the varying voices, look for common themes, and address different perspectives, to come up with a unified understanding.

And many times, with this approach, the solution arises naturally. Often, when sharing perspectives, the problem just disappears. Two departments at odds will suddenly realize they are on the same page. Siblings fighting will recognize someone’s feelings were hurt. Divorcing couples see where they have some common interests, after all.

This type of (un)solving problems requires two key character traits: patience and listening. (Un)solving means making the time for others to discuss, debate, and just think in silence. It also means listening when that silence ends – really hearing what is being said.

So the next time you are in a position to solve a problem – consider taking a moment to listen. Listen to the different voices in your own head. Listen to advice of others. And listen for what is beyond your comfort-zone. The solution may be radically different than you expected – and maybe your problem disappears entirely, in the process!

For more information, coaching, or workshops on this topic, email me at: [email protected]


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