One of the best ways to find yourself given opportunities to be in positions of influence is by becoming a problem-solver. Supervisor love employees who know how to take care of pain-points in an effective way and any person who can demonstrate this is likely going to be given more opportunities to do so. There is, however, a tendency one has to be careful to watch for when they have a disposition toward doing something over nothing. Those who tend to be proactive can find themselves leaping to problem solving too quickly and miss an important connecting point with team members.
So, what can be wrong with problem solving? It’s what’s worked for you so far, right? This is where some of the nuances of being an all-around strong leader come into play. While team members do want a leader who can help solve issues and challenges they face in their work they also have a deep need to be heard. In other words, a leader can highly proactive toward a problem a project team or an organization faces and still come out of it missing an opportunity to build their influence. This happens when a leader is reacting to a problem over listening to the problem.
While team members do want a leader who can help solve issues and challenges they face in their work they also have a deep need to be heard. In some situations, a leader can hear of an issue and make several quick decisions that may or may not help the issue and think they have done their job simply because they took quick and decisive action. The risk here is they might have either missed what the root of the problem was by hearing but not listening to what they were being told. Here are some tips for a self-check to see if you are listening simply for a change to react or listening to the person and reacting to what they are saying:
1. Body language is telling. What is your body language while you are listening? Have you put aside papers, books, phones and such so that you can be fully attentive? Are you maintaining a good amount of eye contact and seated in a posture that communicates you are ready to listen? Are you giving some type of positive verbal feedback? The quickest way to shut off hearing about a problem is by conveying non-verbally to someone that you don’t have the time or patience to listen to them by your body language.
2. Don’t assume you already know the answer. It’s not a quiz and you are not a contestant in a game show trying to get the first answer. It is an easy to fall into thinking as soon as they start “I know the answer to this” but as soon as you do the ability to think objectively about the problem dissolves. It is not unusual that someone will test the waters a bit with a smaller dilemma before moving on to the larger one. If you jump in too soon you may cut off communication that could have given you the root problem that actually is at hand.
3. Don’t be afraid of silence and never interrupt. People who are active problem-solvers, stereotypically, can take silence as an invitation to jump in with ideas. Many times the person sharing needs a moment to frame the next bit of info they want to share. Other times they may be working toward an answer on their own and your attempt to be helpful instead shuts them down. Be sure and “read the room” a bit with them to discern when it is time to jump in and when they need a few moments in order to keep sharing.
4. Self-test your understanding. It is challenging to get outside of biases that guide our thinking that we often can’t be sure we have done it on our own. That’s why it is important to clarify what you are hearing by asking using phrases like “If I’m hearing correctly” and “I hear you saying.” It may sound a bit trite but it’s the only way to know for sure you are hearing what they are telling you and that your assumptions about the problem (or them) are not guiding you.
5. Summarize and follow-up with them. After you have talked it through be sure and explicitly state what the next actions are to make sure expectations are the same. This can help avoid those situations where each thought the other was taking an action. After the right amount of time be sure and follow-up with the person to see if the actions did indeed or if another path is needed.
The best leaders seek to understand first and then react. It can feel a bit against your better judgment if you are one that lies to tackle problems quickly but you will find the value oftentimes is not in quick action that solves problems but instead in the person feeling valued and heard. An investment of time with them will increase trust and the likelihood that they will continue to come to you when there are other issues that you can help solve to make the team even more productive.