Helping Others Solve Problems: 3 Reasons Why These Attempts Fail

Ever tried to help a friend with a problem they were having? Did all attempts to help turn out perfectly? Doubtful! Even when we come with the purest of intentions, many of our helping attempts seem to fail. Why?

Who Owns the Problem

When someone signals to us she has a problem, we have a tendency to immediately try to “solve the problem.” We ask a few questions, make a diagnosis, and offer a solution. Hey, isn’t that what good friends do?

The fallacy in this approach is that we, as third party helpers, may not be the best at solving another person’s problem. Counter-intuitively, the person who “owns the problem” is in the best position to solve the problem. Why? He is closest to the situation.

So why would any of us need help solving a problem if we already hold the answers? Simple. We sometimes need to know that another person understands us and is willing to listen without passing judgment. When we feel understood, we can work through the process of solving our own problem.

Communication Roadblocks

When we’re trying to help others, much of our communication revolves around asking questions, giving advice, offering reassurance and nine other identified common responses. Although appropriate tools in their place, they can become communication roadblocks if used in the wrong situation. You might use a shovel to dig dirt out of a hole, but it would be the wrong tool for a delicate archeological dig. Likewise, when another person has a problem, in this delicate situation, we need to lose the roadblocks.

Listening for Understanding

Most of us know that when we listen to others, to express our interest, we make eye contact, nod, and say things like, “Uh huh,” “Really,” and “Wow!” This is an important first step in listening, but it won’t entirely help a person get on the path to solving his/her own problem. In order to help another person, we must listen for understanding.

An effective communication tool to use is active listening, a method of feeding back your understanding of what the other person is saying and feeling. Research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Counseling Center by Dr. Carl Rogers and Dr. Tom Gordon revealed that elimination of the communication roadblocks along with the use of the active listening skill actually helped clients feel understood. And these clients then felt freer to delve into issues that really bothered them.

Identifying who owns the problem tips us off that the role we need to play is listener. Eliminating the roadblocks of communication allows the person with the problem to remain in control. Use of the active listening skill helps the other person feel understood. Result? Higher success rate in problem-solving.

Janice Horne offers over 25 years of corporate supervisory and executive management experience. Having learned many management skills the “hard way,” she devotes her energy and passion to helping managers more quickly become successful coaches, mentors and leaders.

This article was re-uploaded from our internal archive.

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