Hackernoon logoHow To Resist The Urge To Solve Every Problem That Comes Your Way by@poornima

How To Resist The Urge To Solve Every Problem That Comes Your Way

Poornima Vijayashanker Hacker Noon profile picture

@poornimaPoornima Vijayashanker


Image source: http://www.wocintechchat.com/ #WOCinTech

In last week’s post I explored the topic of How To Respond to Well-Intentioned But Unsolicited Advice.

I was pleasantly surprised when a number of you reached out to tell me that you are usually the one that is giving the advice.

Of course I should have known better because…

Many of you are caring and amazing problem solvers!

But there are times when your response isn’t considered caring or amazing, is it?

It seems like you’re some sort of weird oracle.

Or worse a budinski!

Your response seems cold and calculated.

The person wasn’t coming to you for a solution.

They were coming to you because they wanted someone to hear them out!

So this week let’s tackle how and more importantly why you need to resist the urge to solve every problem that comes your way.

Let’s go back to that scenario I started with above: a dear friend or colleague approaches you, and proceeds to lament about an issue that has been on their mind for some time.

You listen intently.

You know where this is going.

You’ve seen it ALL before…

AND you know exactly what to do!

You WANT to throw your hands up in their air.

You want to interrupt them so badly, and hand them the solution that will work it’s magical powers. Saving them from all the torment they have been put through.

Only this time, I’m going to advise you to PAUSE.

Tell that little voice in your head that is running around in circles like a little Australian sheep dog wanting to herd all those sheep to sit still, and just listen.

Yup that’s it.

So hard!

I know I know.

Remember I’m an engineer too… I went to school to learn how to solve problems!

Solving problems is what I live for.

But here’s why you cannot nor should you jump into solving their problem immediately.

People Want A Sounding Board Not Solutions

Earlier in my career, I’d often go up to my teammates with a tough problem. They’d immediately hand me the solution, and while that made my life easier, it made me super dumb.

I realized they were doing it because they didn’t want me to make mistakes. They also didn’t want me to have to struggle like they had.

After about 6 months, I couldn’t take it anymore. I realized how reliant on my team I had become because I hadn’t learned to think through any problems on my own.

So I told them to stop giving me solutions. I just wanted them to be a sounding board.

I wanted to talk through the problem but figure out the solution on my own, to learn and grow.

They understood why it was important, and they became more comfortable with me making mistakes.

Together we created a process where they could highlight big blind spots to help me avoid making the really costly mistakes.

Sometimes I’d get really stuck, and they’d coach me along the way or point me to resources, but that was it.

At first, it was hard to be on my own. But over time I developed a keen intuition, learned to spot patterns, and was comfortable knowing what mistakes I could make that were easy to recover from.

It was important for my own learning and growth.

Over time I’ve learned that it’s important to do the same for people who are under my guidance. I don’t want to rob them of those opportunities to learn and grow.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this particular lesson because it can be stressful seeing others make mistakes and struggle.

But that’s when it’s important to acknowledge the next point.

You Cannot Scale Yourself Solving Every Problem That Comes Your Way

When I was running my second startup, BizeeBee, one of my employees got really mad at another employee.

I thought about intervening for a minute.

Then I stopped because a bigger issue was brought to my attention.

I couldn’t be at two places at once. Nor did I want to fight two battles on that particular day.

So I told each of my employees to go into a room and talk it out first. If they couldn’t resolve it and the issue escalated further, then I’d be willing to intervene.

Having them talk to each other worked wonders.

Best part, I didn’t have to lift a finger, and the problem resolved itself ;)

It’s Nice To Feel Needed

We all want to be that goto person. We want to feel needed. We want to know that we’ve helped someone.

But there are times when we place our desire to feel needed above what someone actually needs.

And of course, there are other times when we get overwhelmed. There are only so many hours in the day, we cannot solve every single problem that comes our way. We have to decide if we want to invest our time into solving the problem.

So when do you actually solve a problem?

When the person who approaches asks you clearly for help. They will say something like, “I need your help with this problem…”

But even in those moments, I’ve learned to resist the temptation to resolve it.

Instead, I pause to decide if they really need my help or need me to hear them out and provide them guidance.

If they still feel they need my help, I’ll dive into what approaches they might have already tried (because I hate to suggest things that haven’t worked). I also want to know why they think they cannot solve it without me (as opposed to someone else). And finally, what is the desired outcome they are looking for, to make sure I can help them achieve it.

Now I want to know, how do you resist the urge to solve every problem that comes your way? Let me know in the comments!

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