One of the best ways to stay stuck, to be fussy, and to feel frustrated is to see life as a problem to be solved. An either/or or a right/wrong paradigm of perspective is quite limiting, and it guarantees stress. Unfortunately, many of us were raised to search for the “one right way” to answer a question, or the “only” way to address (excuse me: to solve) a situation.
The ability to judge, to discern, to assess and to conclude are all essential qualities and they are important for adults to possess. The quest for better living, however, asks us to give some thought to how we think!
As they lament about their workplace struggles, some of my coaching clients have heard me observe, “The problem with being a good problem solver is that everything looks like a problem!” These good folks want to assist their colleagues and their direct reports by fixing what they perceive needs fixing. However, they are met with resistance, with defensiveness, and with non-cooperation.
Rather than as problems to be solved, what is another way to look at the issues and challenges at work, at home, and in life?
One of the best ways to extricate from this dynamic of “I’m right, you’re wrong” is to shift from being the expert to being the curious learner. When you resist the impulse to fix, you immediately succeed in removing the other person’s fearful and reflexive defensiveness. When you address the issue (remember: address it, don’t fix it!) you can employ new language, too.
Some suggested new phrases for your curiosity lexicon include:
• “hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting!”
• “What do you think?”
• “What else is important to consider?”
• “I wonder what we haven’t thought about yet…”
• “Who else could help us address this?”
• “What should we be sure NOT to do?”
Trying to NOT fix things might be hard (or… it might feel like a relief). You may fear your value to your workplace may evaporate, especially if you have defined yourself as the problem solver. Remember, you are YOU, and being a problem solver is but a skill, not an identity. Additionally, “problem-solvers” can carry the additional reputation as “know-it-all” or “ridged,” so that identity could be more of a hindrance than you might have realized…
Now that we’ve tested the curiosity-instead-of-problem approach in a work scenario, are you willing to try it on your living environment? The writer Annie Dillard said it perfectly: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”
With appreciative inquiry, ask yourself about how you spend your days:
• Are you getting enough sleep? Exercise? Healthy food?
• Do you have a circle of family and friends who love you?
• Are you living where you want to be living? Do you have enough personal space?
• Do you have the pets/activities/social outlets you desire?
• Are you learning new things every day?
• Are you “happily employed?”
• Do you live well and within your means?
• Do you pay your bills on time?
• Are you saving at least 10% of your income?
• Do you have annual medical and dental appointments?
• Do you donate time or money to causes beyond your immediate circle?
• Do you tell the truth?
• Do you have fun every day?
These are just a sampling of over one hundred questions to be considered in evaluating where to focus on a better living program.
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.