How to shift someone’s thinking from problems to solutions

Problems are our biggest catalyst for change. Problems don’t exist in physicality though. A problem is only defined by the thinking that creates it.

If we change how we think about a problem, the problem changes.

Problem solving is core to leadership. The best way to know whether someone is next level role ready is to assess how they respond to problems and solve them at the next level.

Our choice of focus determines how we see a problem

What we focus on is what we get. For example, if we focus on what’s wrong with something, we’ll find more things that are wrong with it. If we focus on our fear, we’ll find more reasons to believe we can’t do something, shouldn’t do it or hold off doing it and justify why that’s the case.

People experience problems differently. A massive problem to one person will be a good challenge for someone else. In addition, how we think about a problem drives how we feel about it, and in turn, how we react to it. Our mindset matters.

The longer we stay in a problem, the harder it is to shift our thinking out of it

We all fall into problem focused thinking from time to time. And not every problem has a straightforward tangible solution.

However, do you work with someone who stays in ‘problem state’ longer than they should? Sue was like this. She seemed to attract problems and drama no matter which project she managed. She came to our 1-1’s jumping the gun to talk about why things weren’t working, who was to blame, and how hard everything was. In her overwhelm, Sue didn’t see that her ‘problem focused’ thinking was hindering how she was showing up and being perceived. She couldn’t seem to step outside of her problems to see them (and herself) through a different lens. Bottom line, Sue wasn’t taking enough responsibility and her boss Lyn, seeing the pattern, had had enough. Lyn wanted solutions and results, not problems!

Moving from problem focused thinking to solution focused thinking

Do you have people in your team that tend to stay in problem focused thinking for too long?

Here’s how you can help shift their thinking in a coaching conversation:

  • Create a safe space for them to listen and be curious and open

Then help them:

  • Appreciate that how they have defined the problem and are experiencing it is based on their choice of thinking. Challenge their beliefs, biases, judgements, ego, and behaviours in a way that expands their thinking, addresses their problem focus and helps build self-awareness.
  • Identify how they are benefiting from having a problem thinking focus (for example, they don’t have to take responsibility).
  • Understand how they might have solved similar problems in the past.
  • Reframe and see different perspectives that open up different ideas and actions that address the opportunity arising from the problem.
  • Choose a solution(s) and way forward that empowers them to have a go, even if they feel uncomfortable. Talk about why courage over comfort is a good thing.
  • Build confidence by acknowledging effort, initiative and progress.

Bringing it all together

The future is collaborative not competitive. Complex problems require forward thinking and adaptive leaders. People who create possibility, opportunity and change through problem solving will future proof their team, organisation and career. What part can you play as the leader of your team?

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