What if What You Want Isn't What you Need? or, is it a Broken Arm or a Bruise?

Quick question: Let’s say someone came to you complaining of arm pain and asking if you have some ibuprofen.  Upon chatting with them, you discover they actually may have a broken arm.  Would you simply give them ibuprofen and expect it to fix the arm?  No, you’d probably advise them to seek medical attention to fix the break and not just treat the symptom of pain. (At least I hope you would…)  

Many times clients call us seeking guidance on a very specific problem they have identified.  They are experiencing some pain and are looking for help to alleviate it.  Often, after we spend some time chatting with them, we discover there is actually a deeper need behind what they are asking for.  

Here are 4 ways to address underlying issues while keeping your attention on the source of pain

1.  Get curious.  First, it’s important to ask questions. And not just the surface questions, but the deeper ones too. It’s almost as if we need to turn back to our preschool selves and remember how to ask “why?” Not a defiant-give me a justification why but a curious, wondering why.

2.  Name your assumptions.  In the absence of real information our brains fill in the blanks - oftentimes with inaccurate ideas.  It's really important to name preconceived notions and assumptions...and then set them aside to make space for new information.   

3. Listen.  Listening is a lost art. I don’t mean just hearing what is said and being able to regurgitate the words. (“I was listening to you dear, you said "empty the dishwasher.”) I mean listening with curiosity and wonder across our organizations with the intent of learning of seeing something from a new perspective. This listening is a gracious act of valuing others, their perspectives, and their observations. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with or like what we hear. It does mean we need to suspend judgment for the purpose of learning and be open to the possibility of change.

4.  Get it on paper.  Now we are ready to put it all out on paper see what the data tells us. What did we learn? What assumptions were inaccurate? Which were spot on? What is all of this telling us?

Much like going to the ER for x-rays versus taking ibuprofen and hoping for the best, this approach is not the quickest or easiest fix. However, it can help identify the true source of the pain, ensuring that we are treating the real issue and not just its symptoms.  The end result is a healthier, more productive company or organization.