Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Moving From Problems to Solutions

Sometimes advice is appropriate, but when you're in a supervisory role, those you're coaching will accept more responsibility and learn more if you help them solve their own problems. These four communication skills move a conversation from focusing on problems to generating solutions:

Active Listening

Paraphrase: Play back your understanding of what they said. If your restatement is not quite on target, they'll usually clarify.

Reflect: Confirm what they seem to be feeling. This helps diffuse tension, acknowledges their right to express feelings, and lets them know you support them, even if you disagree.

Open Probing

Open probes encourage the other to amplify: "Go on." "Tell me more about..." "Give me an example of... " "What did you do/say?" "How did the situation arise?" "You mentioned previously that..." "Remind me again of..."

Notice also how the way you probe can begin to lead toward solutions: "How do you think it could have been handled better?" "What might happen if... ?" "How do you see ___ being able to improve?"

(NOTE: "Don't you think that... ?" is advice in disguise, not a probe.)


Instead of focusing on what you don't like, reframe negative statements into a positive. This is not about being "nice." The purpose is to keep your eye on solutions and model how to turn obstacles into opportunities. If someone complains about inconsistencies in top management's priorities, you might say, "You'd like to see things handled differently here."

Both/And Thinking

Most people who are stuck in problems are also using either/or thinking ("It will take too long to do it right"). Move the conversation into both/and thinking:

  1. Mentally determine the two apparent opposites (in this case quality and time).
  2. Ask a question that presumes both are possible ("How might you do both ___ and ___?"). For example, "What could be done in the current timeframe?" or "How might we make it work in the time remaining?"

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