Do Not Fix It!

Resist the urge to fix a problem that your spouse or team member brings to you. Let things play out and see what happens. Oh so simple to say, but not at all easy to do! Like many men and leaders, I am a problem-solver. When someone comes to me with a problem, I naturally and quickly go into fix it mode. While this may yield results (ie, a solution), it is not always in the best interest of the relationship. Plus, it may reduce your influence as a leader. 

In marriage, it is common for a man to want to fix a problem or situation that his wife shares with him. This frequently causes frustration or conflict because she often doesn’t want her husband to come up with a solution.  Most (or at least many) women want to share their feelings and be able to process out loud. They want their husband to simply listen. That’s hard for many of us men to do!

In leadership, being in fix-it mode with your team can work against you as well. If you are always the one who solves the problems, your team will start looking to you for the answers and will stop thinking for themselves. Or, they will only take their thinking so far because they know you’ll have your own spin on it once they share with you. This adds to your workload and stress level! Part of your role as a leader is to help your team members to be their best, so if they are giving you anything less than that, you have an obligation to help them push past where they are.  Additionally, the same scenario that happens in marriage may be playing out at work. Women (and sometimes men) may be coming to you to listen while they process out loud, rather than to have you solve their problem. They simply need to be heard, and once they are, they can move on and continue to find better solutions.

So, here are some tips to help avoid fixing something for someone else:

  • If they only come with a problem, ask them what solutions they’ve considered thus far. If they don’t have any, ask them to come back to you when they have at least one, but ideally more than one.
  • Ask them if they are giving you their best thinking. Asking this question forces them to assess whether they’ve thought it through enough on their own. If you ask it consistently, they will eventually start coming with solutions, or at least options, rather than just the problem.
  • Before they start describing what’s going on or as soon as you can interrupt, ask something like: “Do you want me to fix it (help you find a solution) or just listen?” This one question has been tremendously helpful in my marriage, but it can also be just as helpful at work.
  • When the urge to fix it rises up, take a deep breath and pause. Ask yourself whether it sounds like something the other person (or team) can fix on their own. Have they taken it as far as you think they are capable of doing? If not, then encourage them to continue. 
  • Be open to solutions that are different than what you would do. Allow for the possibility that their solution may be better, even if it doesn’t appear that way on the surface. (Of course, good judgment needs to be used in this situation, particularly where stakes are high.)

When all else fails, just stop it! This video clip from the Bob Newhart Show illustrates the point in a humorous way. To avoid fixing problems that our spouse or team member doesn’t really want fixed, sometimes we just need to “stop it.” Simple, but not easy.