How to identify problems (instead of solving them) – video transcript

We often hear the following advice: “Don’t come to me with a problem, come with a solution.” 

While that advice is okay if you’re talking specifically about going to your manager, I think coming with a solution and not a problem is the start of so many conflicts on teams. 

Here’s why. 

If you’re coming to your team with a potential solution, it’s probably not to something in your own area because you could have just fixed that yourself. You’re likely coming with a solution to something that cuts across areas, or even sits completely in one of your colleague’s remits. 

When you do that, it can trigger a lot of unhealthy reactions. 

The first is that people might think you probably don’t know enough about how things work. Maybe the reaction you get is, “That would be great, if it weren’t explicitly prohibited in our contract…” 

This will just make you look ignorant, which is not very helpful. 

Another outcome to you suggesting a solution without having talked about the problem is the other person is caught off guard and becomes really defensive. If they didn’t know there was a problem in their shop and all of a sudden you jump straight to a solution, there might be lots of pushback and resistance. Again, you don’t want that. 

Of course, a third possibility is that you might be suggesting a perfectly good solution, but also unintentionally coming across as condescending. This attitude could convey that you don’t have the confidence in the other person to identify or solve the problem on their own, which will only harm your relationship with your peers. 

So instead of coming with a solution, it makes a lot more sense to come to your team with what the issue is. 

Here are a few tips on how to do that. 

First of all, start by saying you’re starting to notice a problem brewing. Then, qualify it with evidence; rather than saying “I feel like”, you can say something like “I took a look at the data” or “I’ve compiled a few things.” 

Coming with the evidence that something might be brewing is much more constructive, and will also make it a lot harder for people to ignore the point 

At this point you can then shift to a question. So, “What do you think this can be attributed to?” “What might be causing this? “What actually might be another explanation?” 

If you help to get your team aligned on what the problem is, then the person who is accountable for solving the problem is much more likely to be responsive to your suggestion and solve it themselves.

This approach avoids you putting yourself out there with some hair-brained answer that doesn’t actually work on the ground. You haven’t surprised somebody and made them defensive about an issue within their own domain that they hadn’t noticed, and you haven’t been condescending in suggesting that they aren’t capable of coming up with their own solution. 

So no more coming to your team just with a solution. Instead, come with some evidence and some ideas about what might be problems that they need to solve. 

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