As a leader have you ever felt frustrated because you can’t seem to get to the root of the problem? Regardless of what solution is proposed there is some form of resistance. It’s like a moving target.
Most problem-solving efforts are doomed to fail because the real issue – an emotional issue – is never disclosed. People are motivated to reduce uncomfortable and negative emotions, and will go to great lengths to do so. However, if they are unaware or unwilling to disclose these emotions, problem-solving will go around and around without resolution.
What if I am a politician and I am afraid that my constituency will abandon me if I change my mind about an issue I have historically opposed, even with solid evidence to support my decision? I may find fault with every solution proposed by my peers, even though I keep asking for “out of the box thinking.” I become impossible to please and may adopt an all-or-nothing attitude. Without disclosing the emotional problem I am trying to solve, I am more of a hindrance than a help.
The emotional solution I am trying to find is saving face and feeling respected for my decision. If I disclose this problem, I can engage others to help and be more open to creative problem-solving. Sure, it’s vulnerable and risky. And it’s the only way to become a genuine participant in problem-solving efforts.
As a leader, the best way to reach solutions that last is to create an environment where people feel safe sharing their emotional concerns. Try saying something like, “You might have uncomfortable feelings about the merger. It’s OK to share these before we get started because these emotions are natural and OK. I feel anxious myself.”
Once these are on the table, the next step is to describe the ideal “end state emotion” we are striving for. Try saying something like, “Thanks so much for sharing your feelings about this merger. Now let’s finish this sentence; The ideal solution would help me feel ______.” When doing this, avoid any mention of the actual solution. Focus first on how you will feel about the solution.
Once people are clear about their feelings, and how they want to feel instead, this awareness can be used as a litmus test for problem solving. If I am feeling sad about the change in direction and need to grieve, then how can we find solutions that honor what’s been lost? If I am feeling afraid of being abandoned by my constituency and the ideal solution would help me feel respected and supported, what measures can we take to provide that respect?
If problem-solving seems to be going nowhere, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to identify core emotional drivers and desired emotional end-states. Getting to the emotional root of the problem usually uncovers a host of new opportunities and transforms the problem-solving effort.
Next Element trains leaders to facilitate solutions that stick.
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