3 Steps to Better Problem Solving — Bonus: You Don’t Do the Solving!

Did you know that many (many, many) problems would be resolved by employing one act? It’s true. Just doing this one thing will help eliminate those challenges and smooth out difficult conversations.

That one thing: listening.

It sounds easy and most of us think we are listening because we hear the other person talking.

Hearing is not listening.

In fact, there are different types of listening: comprehensive, critical, empathic, and appreciative. These are all fascinating yet here, I want to focus on the simplicity of listening in general and the three steps to improve your listening ability.

1. Hush

Stop talking. When the other person is trying to communicate with you – do not talk. Out loud or inside voice. That inside voice talking is thinking about how your going to respond.  No. Not allowed. Focus fully on the other person – what they say, how they say it, word choice, and body language.

Think about the words – do their words fall into categories? For example, are they saying things like admire, appear, see, observe, watch, envision, reveal? These are clues that they are Visual people.  They generally see things in patterns, big picture, holistically.

Are they gesturing a lot or very little? Is their body tense? Do their words and their delivery match? 

Noting these types of factors will help you in two ways: it will help you focus on listening and help you confirm.

2. Confirm

In your own words – without judgment – tell them what you heard and ask them if it is correct.  I have seen over and over again bookending with these two phrases: “So, what you’re saying is….”  to “Is that correct?”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “So, what you’re saying is…” it’s like a little trigger that makes me feel placated. I like to make it personal and speak with them, not to them. How about, “I want to make sure I understand where you are…” then summarize – without judgment – what you think you heard and ask them if you are understanding them correctly.

If you have, move on to step three. If you are not, take a moment to think about how you best understand something. Remember above when we were talking about visual people? Maybe you are a Kinesthetic person. You’re a hugger, a arm toucher when talking. You related to feeling words like grasps, get a hold of, turn around, move. Ask them to clarify from your perspective (i.e. “How is this weighing you down?”) to see if you can come together.

Be careful not to lead. It can be easy to say, “I think what you meant to say was…”  this can subtly convey to the other person that you are expecting them to feel differently than they do, and this will become a barrier in communicating. It means you aren’t listening; you’re trying to guide.

3. Validate

This is simply telling them that how they think or feel makes sense. You are not condoning any behavior, not judging, not agreeing. Simply letting them know that you get it how they see things from their perspective.

The most important part of what you are doing is validating how they felt, their emotion; not justifying, condoning action, or condescending.

You can say things like “I can see how you would feel that way” (notice what we did there, we put in a visual word in the validation).

At this point, the person may be able to solve the problem themselves by feeling more confident that they were heard and understood, which empowers them to see the next steps more clearly.

If you do need to problem solve: don’t assume, stay on task, focus on outcomes, converse vs dictate, continue to practice good listening throughout the process.

“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of attention.” ~ Jim Rohn


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All opinions and views expressed in this article are my own, unless attributed. They’re normally pretty spot-on (because I’m obsessive about career topics and communications). The humor sprinkled in is Mr. B approved, my dog who thinks I’m hilarious (and not because I’m his meal ticket).

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