Wait Before You React

By dolgachov

You get a panic call, email or meeting request about a problem, as a leader, you spring to action ready to find a solution. Problem, solution, move on as quickly as possible. That is the most common path that is taken when dealing with an issue. The good news is that you are taking care of business and keeping things moving. There are times when things work out, but often, we realize that hindsight is 20/20 and if we could go back, we would do things differently.

Despite your best intentions, reacting to problems too quickly is counterproductive. Some leaders like to act quickly as they think it shows those around them that they can think on their feet and that they are the “fixer”. However, when we rush to solve an issue, we likely aren’t taking the time to figure out the root cause, think through several possible solutions, and select the best resolution. In today’s complex world, there are likely three or more sides to every story. As leaders, it is our responsibility to take the time to listen to every story in order to understand the entire picture.

The truth is, most problems aren’t life or death; we have a bit of time on our hands to figure out how to best handle the situation. Use this time to your advantage so you don’t have backtrack on a decision you rushed into. When the people you lead see you being thoughtful it will increase their trust in you as someone who is objective and concerned with the truth. They will also see you as someone who is calm and cares about finding the best solution versus the quickest or easiest solution.

Below are some tips to deploy the next time a problem lands on your desk:

Take a Deep Breath
Dealing with problems often causes our fight or flight responses to kick in. Resist the urge by taking a deep breath. Use this time to gather your thoughts, actively listen, and remind yourself to be open minded. Stress can often cause us to make bad decisions. However, when we take a deep breath or take a walk, we can clear our heads and allow for our rational mind to take the lead. 

Figure Out the Key Players
Determine who is involved in the issue and who might be able to give you useful information to understand the issue. In order to get the full story, you need to know the key players and the role they played in the issue and who might be part of the solution.

Ask Questions from Those Involved 
After you have determined who is involved, take time to meet with each individual. We’ve all heard the saying that there are two sides to every story, but in reality, there are often many sides. It will show you care about each person’s side and perspective. Additionally, you will be able to gain the complete story and therefore, be able to come up with the best solution. Be sure to ask them for their recommendations on the solution and how to make improvements for the future.

Check Your Biases and Emotions
It is easy to let our biases and emotions take over. Practice self-awareness by recognizing what might be causing you to lean a certain way and challenge yourself to see things from every perspective.

Sleep On It
Once you’ve completed your fact-finding mission, sleep on it. Taking time to process the information. Time allows us to see things clearly and to think through possible solutions. It also gives us time to think about how we want to address the issue with our stakeholders. While you may feel pressure to act immediately, your people will respect the fact that you didn’t jump to conclusions and took time to develop a smart solution to the issue.

Consider Your Options 
Now that you have a clear head after taking time to process and reflect, determine various solutions to the problem. Take the time to weigh your options to ensure you select the best path forward.

Work with Others to Find a Solution 
Once you’ve gathered the facts and have an idea about how to move forward, bring the team together (if the solution isn’t an HR issue or a sensitive personal issue) to brainstorm a solution. This will empower the team to be a part of the solution. If you have a clear idea of how you want to resolve the issue, present it to the team and allow them to enhance your idea. Be open-minded to their alternative recommendations as they may have a better idea than yours.

Follow Up with the Parties Involved 
When a problem arises, especially if it is a people problem, be sure to follow up with those involved. Discussing the issue and the solution is a great way to provide constructive feedback for development and will give those involved peace of mind that a solution has been reached. It will signal to each individual that it is time to move on from the problem. Additionally, you may receive feedback about how you could have handled the situation better or what you did well. Willingly accept this feedback and use it in the future.

Of course, there will be instances when you don’t have the luxury of time. You can condense the timeframe of the tips above. The key is to practice patience when dealing with a problem. Once you learn how to slow down, even in the most intense situations, your experience with thoughtful deliberation will assist you in coming up with a solution quickly.

Another way to avoid acting too quickly regarding a problem is to be proactive by thinking about potential issues that may come up in the future and thinking about how you will handle them. Next, in the world of outrage, your company should consider having a crisis communication plan in place in case of negative publicity. By being proactive, you are taking the time to think through the potential issue and preparing yourself for when the time comes to deal with worst-case scenarios that will require quick action.

What are other tips you use to create thoughtful decisions when presented with a problem? Leave a comment below.     

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