I’ve been solving problems my whole life. Solving problems is hard and can be emotionally draining. The best self-care comes from managing boundaries well in this challenging situation. The toughest lesson to learn is when not to start and when to stop. I need to draw a line when it’s not my problem to solve.
An Excess of Accountability
Accountability is a great thing. Concern, compassion and a willingness to act are strengths on which you can build a career. Practiced regularly, these become deeply engrained habits and a foundation for your reputation. Not many people instinctively run towards a problem offering help.
However, a strength overdone can be a weakness. An excess of accountability can lead to disempowerment and dependency of others. Without care, a passion for solving problems can become an expectation that you will catch all the falling knives while others watch on from safety and supply commentary. Concern and compassion overdone can become condescending and unhelpful interference. A fine tuned awareness of problems can be seen as negative or unnecessarily alarmist, if others don’t agree. People learn by solving their own problems. Solving them all too quickly can impeded learning and cause recurrence of issues.
Navigating these boundaries requires us to ask ourselves a series of questions as we work on problems. Remembering to ask these questions in a situation of urgency or crisis is even more important. Lack of clarity doesn’t help anyone when an issue is urgent.
Here are the questions that I have learned to ask myself & others:
- Whose problem is it? The best person to solve an issue is usually the person who has most to gain or the most invested in the issue. Clarifying who owns a problem and ensuring it is escalated to that person is often all that is required. I don’t need to own resolution of every issue and I need to recognise I may not agree with every way that problems are solved.
- Do others see the issue? If I am the only person who sees the issue, my job is to draw it to the attention of someone who is best placed to own it. I don’t need to solve it. I just need to see if allocated to someone who can consider how big an issue it is.
- Do others agree it is a problem? If I see an issue but others don’t see a problem, I need to resolve that conflict. I may need to gather some evidence to support my position. I don’t need to solve the issue to resolve the conflict. In fact, it is preferable that I don’t because I likely do not understand why it isn’t an issue.
- What help does the problem owner need? Ask the person whose problem it is what help they need. Listen to their answer. If they don’t need help, don’t insist. They are an adult and able to make their own choices.
- What help am I best placed to provide? Enthusiastic amateurs are great but they are rarely helpful in solving problems. Ensure that you are providing help from a strength. If it is not your strength, suggest someone who can do better.
- When am I done? Problems have a habit of growing into challenges, quests and life long pursuits. Being clear on what is done for you and for the problem is important. Stop working on the problem when you are done.
- How did I do? When you contribute to solving a problem, it can feel like success is all that matters. If we don’t take care, we can undervalue our contributions, particularly when the problem is large and complex. Judge your performance on what you contributed against the needs, not the problem as a whole.
What questions do you ask to ensure that you are adding value to solving problems? How do you look after yourself in the rough and tumble of challenges?