Which problem-solving technique do you use? Here's four examples--as well as what each conveys about you and your company (for better or worse).
As a business owner, employer, and customer, nothing irks me more than lousy problem-solving skills. People may believe they are working hard to resolve problems, but often the technique they choose more clearly communicates their priorities in the situation than a solution.
Read on to identify which problem-solving technique best describes your own method—and discover how your staff, clients, and colleagues may view you.
The Blame Fix.
We all know the yelling game. This type of problem solver is usually less angry at the person she is trying to blame than at herself for having allowed the problem to happen—but the bystander would never know it. Rather than address the problem right away, this person assigns blame, and focuses most of her energy on yelling at the blamed person, before finally returning to the problem at hand and coming up with a solution.
When my company was penalized for a shipping label infraction to one of our large customers, the first thing I did was to stupidly yell at the shipping manager, thinking it would teach her to be more careful. Once I calmed down and checked the facts, I discovered that the transporter had really caused the problem. Because of the blow up, I then had two problems to resolve instead of one: I had to find a way to stop the labeling change, and I had to repair the damage my misplaced anger had done to my shipping manager's feelings, not to mention her respect for me as a leader.
The Open Mouth Fix.
Some people solve problems by over-talking. This may be okay when you're in therapy, but it tends to be destructive in business. Ever call a company to relay an issue, and have the representative talk right over you or cut you off before you finish explaining the problem?
A few weeks ago, we had trouble with our credit card machine. When I called the company to explain what was happening, the representative cut me off, told me she knew exactly what the issue was, and proceeded to tell me how to solve a problem I was not having. The pinnacle of her resolution came when I tried to explain that she was addressing a different problem than the one I had, and she snippily said to me, "Let me finish."
From the minute she took my call, everything she said and did made it clear she was not truly interested in helping me. The open mouth fixer doesn't really want to solve anything—she just wants to prove how much she knows.
The Quick Fix.
The quick fixer wants to make things right, but fails to do the research to solve the problem completely. She tends to focus only on one part of the problem, rather than looking at the whole issue.
Recently we received a delivery of surplus catalogs from a mailing we were doing. Unfortunately, they were shipped to us before the mailing was completed, and the printer needed to retrieve most of the copies in order to finish the mailing. Intent on getting the extras back, the printer's solution was to pay the return freight charges. For my company, though, the problem was not just a freight overcharge on our bill, but also significant lost revenue from the mailing getting delayed.
The printer thought her offer to pay for the return shipping would make me happy, but instead it further angered me because it meant she had no understanding of my business or the full consequences of her error. I felt I could not trust her as a partner.
The All Ears Fix.
The all ears fixer listens while the problem is fully unveiled. She then asks careful questions to determine if there are underlying details to the problem that were not mentioned.
For instance, when a customer called screaming his box was not going to be delivered on time, he wanted me to hear not just his problem, but also his anguish. I let him explode, but quietly focused my energy on confirming the box was out for delivery. I gave him the tracking information to show him I was on top of the real problem, but I also addressed the imagined problem that, despite the tracking details, the box might not arrive. I promised that if the package did not make it on time, I'd overnight the order, free of charge, so he would have it the next day.
He calmed down immediately because he knew I had understood that his anger was only out of concern for his business. Using the all ears approach made the complaining party feel heard, generated a thorough solution, and ultimately helped to fully resolve the issue with no collateral damage.
Like most business owners, I'm guilty of having used undesirable fixes at least once or twice in my tenure as a business owner. But I've started to make those occasions fewer and farther between by learning to think not only about the solution I am trying to develop, but also about what the solution projects about me and my company.
Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg