Stop Letting Their Issue Become Your Problem

You’re at your desk working on something. There’s a knock at your door or the phone rings. One of your employees needs to talk to you. They describe an issue they have, and they want you to resolve it for them.

It might be a problem they think they can’t fix, a decision they don’t feel comfortable making or information they need but don’t know how to get. Regardless of what it is, they come in with a problem, and they act helpless.

Their issue is the proverbial monkey. The question is, will you let it get on your back?

You’ve probably let that monkey on your back plenty of times. In your head you’ve said to yourself, I can resolve this, and it will be faster and easier if I just do it for them. You’re thinking that coaching the person is going to take more time than just doing it, so you do it. But here’s the thing: This isn’t the last time they’re going to come to you with a problem or issue.

Every time they come to you with a problem they want you to solve, you have a choice to make. Make the decision not to let that monkey get on your back. Here’s how:

  • Establish your boundaries: Acknowledge the employee’s need and verify it with them, then focus on the process of resolution, not the issue’s specifics. You can do this by asking questions and avoiding statements. Instead of saying things like, “You need to get with John and find out what he has done,” ask, “Where are you in the process of trying to solve this?”

Reflect on how you would approach the issue, but don’t tell them they have to do it that way. Then restate their responsibility and let them fail if need be. It may hurt to have them fail this one time, but because of what they learn in the process, they won’t fail again in the future.

  • Coach them to become self-sufficient: Everyone can benefit from learning how to be effective decision-makers and problem-solvers. Show them how to find the information they need to make good decisions and resolve their issues on their own. In today’s world, information is crucial. Access to it comes from techniques unique to your organization and relationships with others.

Approaching problems in a methodical way and identifying potential solutions are at the core of problem-solving. You can find a variety of books, training materials and websites covering the most effective problem-solving strategies. By coaching employees through the process, you’ll ensure that they’re equipped and confident in their own abilities when they face problems again in the future.

When it comes to decision-making, considering all the possibilities and potential ramifications is only part of the equation. Critical thinking — which is part statistics, part systems theory and part psychology — is the most important. Knowledge, experience, and practice will help round it out. Again, turn to widely available resources to help raise the competency levels in your organization.

Sure, it might seem easier to relent and take on the monkey — to solve the problem or make the decision for them “just this once.” But it’s rarely just this once. Putting in the time now is an investment in the future. Because if you make the choice to keep the monkey off your back and coach them so that they can resolve any issue they might face, you’ll be freed up to work on the things that will make your organization better in the future.