How to Solve Problems in a One-on-One: Part IV

Problem-Solving Guide Part 4

During the One-on-One, you will realize that you are not able to connect all received information with each other — some might be even contradictory. Your task is to order and connect this information in the correct way by interacting, reflecting, and asking. Just keep in mind that problems might seem simple from the outside but are complex from a subjective point of view because there are so many layers involved: Social dynamics, emotional states, feelings, goals, insecurities about the degree of honesty when talking to your lead, company culture, just to name a few.

Communication is always imprecise. It is very easy to get lost, and as stated earlier, your task as a leader is to help and guide. So be open, be honest, and ask if you do not understand how two topics fit together — maybe your counterpart doesn’t know either and you are just helping to disentangle another layer. If you really care about him/ her and if you really want to understand the problem, then you will be automatically generating more trust and more openness to your questions and feedback.

In some cases, you might face not a single, but several problems that are or are not connected to each other. It is easy to get confused when you’re trying to connect the dots into the direction of one problem, although, without knowing it, you are facing several ones. How can you figure out if there are several problems while your employee doesn’t know about it consciously? I’ve introduced the method of active listening in the Specify stage. When using paraphrasing and mirroring, you will automatically start to summarize the just heard while connecting it with the other information. If the summary develops over time by getting more and more concrete, you are very likely to encounter just a single problem. On the contrary, jumping between definitions and complex rephrases is mostly a sign of several (but maybe smaller) problems. When this happens, you should hold on for a second. My usual reaction is to verbalize that I am not sure if we are talking about one but several topics at the same time and that we should have a deeper look at this in order to come up with a better solution.

Starting from there, I repeat the past paraphrased summaries and discuss with the employee if both statements are true at the same time (we are talking about two topics) or if the first statement is not valid anymore (employee’s evaluation of the situation changed).

You: “My current perception is that we are maybe talking about several topics rather than one. I would like to have a deeper look at this if that’s fine for you.”

Employee: “Sure, what do you suggest?”

You: “At the beginning of our meeting I had the feeling that you are unhappy with your tasks. Right now, however, our discussion is circling around a promotion. What do you think — are both statements still true or only one?”

Employee: “Well, I would say that getting a promotion would automatically change my tasks, right? So I think both statements are still true.”

You: “Hm, a promotion does not necessarily mean that you will get rid of unliked tasks. It still might be the case that you are doing what you do not like and you’re maybe even getting additional tasks that you do not prefer.”

Employee: “I’ve never thought about it that way.”

You: “Imagine you could pick only one, getting new tasks but no promotion, or getting promotion but keeping the unliked tasks, what would you prefer?”

Employee: “I would definitely pick new tasks but no promotion.”

You: “Excellent. So to me it sounds like the core problem is the tasks. Now, let’s focus on the promotion. What I want to understand is if your motivation for getting a promotion is solely based on your motivation to get a different set of tasks or if there is another reason.

As you know, a promotion does not come by itself — it comes along with many factors, such as a certain level of experience, performance, and sense for ownership. Imagine we were able to provide you a different set of tasks and you were absolutely happy with them. Would you proactively schedule a One-on-One to discuss the possibility of getting a promotion?”

Employee: “That’s a good question. If I was that happy as you suggest in the example, then I would probably not schedule a One-on-One. I think I am on a good track right now, and you can definitely expect me reaching out for you in six months. Right now, however, I wouldn’t do that.”

You: “That’s good to hear and I am looking forward to this discussion. Let me know if there is anything I can help you with. So in turn, does it mean it is fine for you if we focus on the tasks you are not happy with and neglect the part with the promotion?”

Employee: “Yes, that’s fine for me.”

>> Proceed to Part V: Solve

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