Don’t be A Fixer. Be A Guide.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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?”
  2. 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).
  3. 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:

  1. How often do you try to solve someone else’s problem(s) instead of guiding them to a solution?
  2. What can you do in your next conversation to avoid stepping in to solve unless specifically asked?
  3. How can you help those you care about take accountability for solving their own challenges?


Consider reading Asking Empowering Questions: Engaging Employees

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The Power of Stories

By Jay Forte

You have a story. I have a story. Our unique stories tell others who we are, what we’ve done and where we hope to go. They introduce us to others. They inspire us. They make us learn.

However, most of us don’t truly tune in to our own story, never mind the stories of others. We make quick judgements about others, deciding who we like and hate, who is right and who is wrong. But if we were to really listen to each other, we would likely have a profound realization that someone we’re speaking with is actually quite remarkable. You can learn from what they’ve learned. You may even see a bit of yourself in them. You could be changed.

So what stops us from connecting to others and sharing our own stories?

We are in a rush. Our days are filled with responsibilities, obligations and so many things to do. We can blame the world, our work and our responsibilities, but in reality, we choose the activities that fill our days. If connecting with others deeply and in a way that discovers and hears their stories really matters, we would do it. I recently shut the computer down, turned off the office light and spent an evening with an old college roommate, something I would rarely do during the week because of how “busy” I am. By making the time, we reconnected through sharing story after story about life, work and relationships that have shocked, supported, engaged and changed us. I would have missed all this for another hour at my desk.

We are judgmental. How often have you made up your mind about someone only to find you were completely wrong about them? We all judge, it is part of our survival instinct, but most of us do it without realizing we are doing it. We are quick to rule out, cast down, disregard or critique without any true information about the person. I was at the gym recently and watched two women walk by a heavy man on one of the cardio machines. Their contorted faces passed judgment on him based on his size. No words, just facial expressions. It was obvious. I bet if they knew his story they would have had a different response to him (I know he is recovering from surgery and some significant family tragedies). Stories matter.

Suggestion from a coach. I always seem to be in line someplace, mostly waiting get on or off airplanes. Though it’s easier to put my ear buds in and ignore the humanity around me (I am an introvert), there is an incredible opportunity to connect with the millions of stories from the people around me. One of my favorite ways to engage someone in conversation to bring out their stories is to ask, “What’s the best thing that has happened to you today?” The positive tone welcomes the other person in and invites their story. As they share theirs, you will likely be invited to share yours.

Everyone has a story of tragedy, challenge, learning and triumph. And don’t you, too? In a world where we are quick to disconnect, our stories can help us connect. Our stories illustrate that we are all part of something larger, learning as we go and experiencing this great thing called life.

Share your story. Listen to others. You will be changed.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. What could you do today to be more tuned in to the stories of others?
  2. What do you do on a daily basis to be more aware of your own stories?
  3. How could making time to hear the stories of others enrich and improve your life?


Consider reading What is Life Teaching You?

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