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a blog by Chris Barrow

On how to be an effective problem solver

People come to you with problems, looking for solutions.

People - family, friends, colleagues, employees, clients, patients, suppliers - sometimes even strangers. Once the word gets around that you are a problem solver, you will never be lonely.

Every problem has a solution - of that I am sure.

I prefer to call a problem a situation - pedantic but bear with me.

The challenge is that people want to spend 5 minutes describing the situation and then 25 minutes (if you are lucky) explaining how they feel about the situation.

That's usually a trip around the Karpman Drama Triangle:

  • Rescuer - "All I wanted was for us all to be happy."

  • Victim - "I can't believe this has been done to me."

  • Persecutor - "Just you wait."

As a coach, boss, counsellor, friend - you learn to listen to the 25 minutes of feelings without comment. I've always described that as the "and another thing" part of the conversation.

When the words (and the drama) have been exhausted - it's time for you to do your work - never before that.

Here's my response:

"I've listened carefully to what you have told me and I appreciate how you must feel.

However, we need to establish some ground rules.

What I can help you with is the situation - we can discuss potential solutions.

What I cannot help you with is how you feel about the situation.

So as we are talking - when we are discussing the situation and the solutions, I'll be fully engaged.

But when you revert to how you feel about the situation, I'll stop and remind you that the solution to how you feel rests with you alone - I can't make you feel better.

is that OK?"

As Stephen Covey taught us "between stimulus and response there is only choice"

We choose how we feel.

An important point to make here - even though you refuse to engage with the feelings, it is critical that you listen until the feelings have been dumped - don't try and short circuit that, because the other person will think you don't care. But don't ever take the feelings on board - you will be eaten alive by everybody else's dramas.

If I had £5.00 for every 25 minutes I've sat and listened to someone rant - I'd be a rich man.

It's the cross we bear but that's the deal when you are a leader.

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