Are you a problem finder or problem solver?

August 27, 2012
Problem finder or problem solver?

Courtesy of kellydelay via Creative Commons license.

I cannot begin to count the number of times that I’ve heard the following phrase.

“Yeah, but the problem with that is…”

Sound familiar? I have heard this at work, at home, in my master’s degree program, on the radio, in a podcast, on television, almost anywhere you can think that a conversation could take place. It seems that we’re all gifted in the art of problem finding. If an idea, initiative, or change comes our way which we don’t agree with, we generally aren’t shy about saying so.

We’re trying to be helpful when we do this. Our comments are intended to share some insight that may not have been thought through. That insight may come from experience, knowledge of a similar situation, an understanding of the environment and people involved, or just intuition.

But to the person that hears this, it can be annoying. It’s like being given advice when you haven’t asked for it. What goes through the listener’s mind is that you’re being belligerent, argumentative, or uncooperative. Especially when no alternative solution is offered.

How do you move past this situation? The problem finder thinks they’re being helpful, and might be. The listener thinks the problem finder is being difficult. As confessed problem finders, we all need to change our mindset. Here are five alternatives.

  1. One thing we should do is consider the source. What if the person delivering the idea or initiative was the originator of that idea? If you immediately tell them that there’s a problem with that, you’ve automatically undercut their authority. Plus, you put them on the defensive.
  2. We’re also quick to offer up this advice. Maybe the full extent of the thought or idea hasn’t been fully stated just yet. As soon as detect a problem, we speak. That’s perceived as interrupting, which is rude and disrespectful. Be sure to hear the idea fully before commenting.
  3. Sometimes, an idea isn’t communicated in the way it is intended. As with all communication, something gets lost in the translation. Instead of pointing out a problem, ask probing questions. In the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.”
  4. To move past the problem-finding stage, offer at least two alternative solutions. By doing so, you let the other person know that you care enough to provide a solution. You also keep the initiative or idea alive; by merely pointing out the problem, you’ve virtually killed any momentum that it might have had. If you do so, be prepared to explain why your alternative(s) might work better, or you run the risk of coming across as arrogant. And be very careful of your language or you can still come off as dismissive.
  5. A final option is to brainstorm alternative solutions. Instead of dismissing ideas or offering your own, begin to discuss possibilities. By combining the questioning technique with the offering of ideas in an open forum, multiple solutions can be discovered. And by doing so, you begin to establish a reputation as a consultative, interested, and engaged leader who knows how to solve problems.

So, ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Team Member – what camp do you fall into? What changes can you make to move toward becoming a problem solver? In what situations have you seen this work well? As a member of an Agile team, your input and demeanor within your small team carries a lot of weight. Need help shifting your style, or that of your team? Braintrust Consulting Group can help! To find out more, contact us here at Braintrust. Click on the Contact page to hear from one of our product specialists. Or, head over to the Services tab to find out more about our offerings.



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