By Jay Forte
Your friend complains about a challenge with a colleague. You tell your friend how to solve the situation.
Your son complains about how unfair one of his teachers seems to be with the amount of homework she assigns. You tell your son what he should say to the teacher about the volume of homework.
Your spouse complains about putting on some weight and you tell him to stop eating after dinner.
We are natural-born fixers. It seems to be in our DNA to swoop in with our superhero capes to resolve any unacceptable situation or solve a challenge. We shift into “tell mode” and outline the solutions.
Though “tell mode” may be done with the best intentions, there are two reasons why this is routinely unproductive.
- Your solution is likely not their Your ideas are your ideas, not theirs. What often seems reasonable for you can be ineffective for them. All solutions must be in the context of who the person is. This is why the best solutions should be suggested by the person with the challenge.
- We must each own our solutions. Unless we feel ownership in the solution, it becomes someone else’s idea, which can make us less committed or vested in it as a solution.
So, what do you do when someone comes to you asking for help or guidance? Here are three tips I find to be most effective to move from “tell mode” to a coaching and guiding mode.
- Help the person feel heard. Validate their feelings and reflect what you are hearing. Get the facts straight. Sometimes they’re just venting and not looking for a solution. Get clarification from them by asking if they want help and, if so, how they want that help to look. Don’t wonder; ask them. Let them know you understand and are available to help if they want it. After hearing them out, consider asking: “What is it that you need from me?”
- Ask empowering questions. Fight the urge to tell them what to do. Instead, ask for their ideas. Consider asking: “What ideas do you have to solve this?” or, “What has worked in a situation like this before?” The request for ideas generally initiates their thinking and talking. They can then start to sort through their ideas and their options. You act as a guide to get them looking at their situation (after all, it is their situation).
- Ask how you can support them in implementing any idea they decide to implement. Asking “What do you want to do and how can I support you?” returns the entire challenge back to the person who is experiencing it. They need to own their solution and, by offering to support them based on what they choose to do, you can guide and coach them into finding their solution while ensuring they feel supported and valued.
Though it may come from a good place, our habit is to solve others’ problems; we think we know what they need. How often have you said, “Here’s what you should do”?
And, how often have you heard this and resented the advice that follows?
Help others take their brain out for a spin and be an active participant in solving their challenges. This is a skill that will serve both of you for life.
Don’t be a fixer. Be a guide.
Important Questions from a Coach:
- How often do you try to solve someone else’s problem(s) instead of guiding them to a solution?
- What can you do in your next conversation to avoid stepping in to solve unless specifically asked?
- How can you help those you care about take accountability for solving their own challenges?