Saturday, November 8, 2014

Good managers, like good parents, focus on solutions instead of problems



I’ve talked before about how useless and counterproductive it can be to interrogate your children when there is a problem.
  • First, “Why Questions” are like thinly veiled accusations. “Why did you do that?” means, “You shouldn’t have done that!" Kids need you to be clear with them. (And speaking of being clear, “Don’t hit your sister!” requires double processing and emphasizes the unwanted action. Meanwhile, "We use gentle touches!" is easier for children to understand and emphasizes the WANTED behavior!)
  • Second, “Why Questions” can imply there is a correct answer when there obviously is not. “Why did you hit your sister?” Um, is there ever an appropriate reason to hit your sister?! Or ANYONE? 
  • Finally, “Why Questions’ can imply you need to justify your emotions when, NOPE. Emotions are inherently valid. What you do with them may not be appropriate, but you never need to justify your feelings. 

Another reason this approach is not effective is because it focuses on the PROBLEM. When you should be focusing on the SOLUTION.


This is true whether you are a parent or a CEO. However, just like it is so tempting to ask, “Why did you color on the walls?” even though you know you won’t get a satisfying answer, it is also tempting, in a professional setting, to immediately focus on a problem instead of a solution. It is much more salient. There is something emotionally compelling about negative feelings generated by a problem that makes human beings itch to place blame on someone. There is probably also something that compels people to think that we have to start at the problem, to move forward. But to quote Christine Comabford in Forbes, “being problem-focused really sucks.”



Image Credit: Christine Comaford Assoc.


Focusing on problems actually distracts you from fixing them. And it makes everyone miserable. I discussed before in my posts about parenting about how, instead of berating your kids for not being born with perfect table manners or social skills for navigating playground disputes, you need to actively teach them those skills. It is the same way in the workplace. Instead of berating your employees for not having every skill you need them to have, just go ahead and teach them. Or examine and improve the the environment if there are issues that could be contributing to workplace issues. The same with parenting.


Focusing on solutions in the workplace (or the home) begins by asking the right questions.



Image Credit: Christine Comaford Assoc.



If you start off the conversation looking for common ground, instead of looking to assign blame, then you start off on the same team. Both parties are more likely to feel seen, heard, and understood. And you are much more likely to reach a solution when that is actually your goal.


Unfortunately, bad managers tend to be more punitive and want to “teach someone lesson” (i.e., make them suffer in some way for their “mistakes.”) To do this, they must focus on problems and assigning blame. Bad managers don’t know that punishments aren’t very effective. Bad managers probably don’t care, or bother to keep track of the impacts of their decisions. Bad managers tend to rationalize low morale or high attrition. 


Good managers, on the other hand, know that “teaching someone a lessons" literally means empowering the person with the skills and tools to work effectively avoid mistakes in the first place. They know that punishments aren’t as effective as rewards, and that being successful is a reward unto itself. Good managers have more efficient employees who are happier, more productive, and more likely to stick around.


Focusing on solutions is better, whether your a parent or a CEO. It isn’t always intuitive. But it is worth the effort.



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