How to Create Problem-Solving Employees

Has this ever happened to you? It’s one of those days, an endless stream of issues and problems. Your top two salespeople are at each other’s throats again, and no one can make a decision without your approval. If you’re the type of manager who likes to give advice, you may have created a staff lacking in problem-solving skills. Next time, do your best to avoid these problem-solving pitfalls.

  • Defensiveness. You may have a tendency to stop listening to your employee’s problem and start forming a knee-jerk response. You can’t wait to jump in and provide some sage advice or the optimal solution. You may have heard many versions of this story, so rather than paying attention, you focus on how to respond rather than listening. Instead, try to listen carefully and turn the tables rather than giving advice. Simply ask, “What do you think should be done?” Or “How would you like to see this handled?” Or “How have you tried to solve this in the past?”

  • Tuning out. If you feel like you’ve had the same conversation over and over, your mind may drift. Surely, you have more pressing matters in need of your attention! Tuning out will only prolong the story. Your employee will sense it, and you’ll miss some key information. Jump back in quickly. If you get lost, say, “I’m not sure I got that last part. Would you repeat that?” or “Let me be sure I’ve got this right. You’re saying …”

  • Overreaching. Avoid attaching meanings that go far beyond what has been expressed by your employee. Save psychological explanations for the therapists. Even if you firmly believe Joe’s mother’s issues are the root causes of his dislike for Carmen, keep that to yourself. Challenge Joe by asking him, “What do you think the real problem is? I feel like we continue to have the same conversation about you and Carmen.”

  • Underreaching. Conversely, if you don’t feel this is a legitimate issue you may downplay it. It’s OK to come out and say, “Joe, this seems like a minor issue. As you just told me, you have a simple solution. Do I have that right or am I missing some-thing?” Perhaps there really is more to the story, and Joe hasn’t told you the real problem, or maybe it really is quite simple and he just needs to hear it said out loud.

  • Mismatched audio and video. If you are investing even five minutes of your time to have a conversation with one of your employees, make it worth your while. Mentally check your body language. No amount of “uh-huhs” and “yeah, go ons” will help if you can’t maintain eye contact or if you have your arms crossed and are leaning away from your employee. If you really can’t have the conversation, just be honest from the start and pick a better time to talk.

  • Wordy responses. For those who have jobs requiring them to give direction and advice, it can be difficult to sit back and listen. If you have a hard time keeping quiet, you are not alone. Try holding back on the complex or lengthy explanations asserting your point of view or presenting your ideal solution. Focus more on what your employee can do to alleviate the problem. In general, brief responses work best.

Reprinted from Gretchen Miller is a partner in a boutique consulting firm specializing in small and medium-size companies. Miller’s background includes many years of luxury retail experience, both as a sales manager and a training and development specialist.

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