Permission to Ask, Permission to Answer

I am extremely solutions-oriented. That can be both a strength and a weakness, and my goal is to make it less of the latter while retaining it as the former.

One of the “weakness” aspects of being solutions-oriented is you tend to view all problems as fundamentally “solvable” and thus approach them with that framework. Ask my wife how well that works out. Some situations are negative without necessarily having a solution, or perhaps the solution is just to support someone going through it.

I, on the other hand, have my sleeves permanently rolled up. I work. I’m not the “moral support” guy, I’m the fix-fix-fix guy. I’m aware of it, and so I’ve been trying for a few years now to get better at really actively listening and trying to judge when the other person or people need solutions or just need to bend an ear for a while. I’m proud to say I’ve actually been pretty successful, but I still have plenty of room for improvement.

I was talking to a truly brilliant co-worker of mine today, and she told me something that might seem obvious to people that aren’t me, but it was a radical departure from my standpoint. She said: “Don’t guess. Ask. Say, ‘I have some ideas for solutions that may work for you, but I want to make sure you need that first. Do you want to hear those or do you want to talk out your concerns a little more?’ No need to try to figure it out on your own.”

This is stellar advice! It’s a great communication tool even if, unlike me, you’re never wrong about whether or not someone wants solutions. Even if you can flawlessly figure that out for yourself, asking permission to offer solutions or ask more questions really helps the other person feel heard, understood, valid. It can help create a bridge between your intentions and their perception, which is always a good thing. And it can improve the quality of the solutions you offer!

This is such good advice for me that I’m legitimately excited for the next time I hear about someone else’s problem. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but hey – one problem at a time.

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