Problem Solving …. The PHD course (part 1) Permission

Every day we solve problems, some small and some large. As humans we are highly effective at problem solving as long as they are our problems. When we have a problem we implicitly understand the context, the definition of the problem and perhaps most importantly the outcome or resolution to the problem that we would find satisfactory. It’s easy, after all it’s our problem.

When the client is introduced as the problem owner, it is not so simple.

When the client has a problem, you do not immediately understand the context, the attributes of the problem, the definition of the problem nor the resolution or remediation that may satisfy the client. To be successful at solving the client’s problem you will need to discover and understand all of these factors.

The single most important thing I have ever learned in client problem solving is this:

You will only be successful at problem resolution with your client to the degree they give you permission to explore the problem area.

Let’s explore this.

Let’s assume you are standing in line at Starbucks for your morning coffee. The gentleman ahead of you orders a double espresso. You lean over and ask him:

“What is your annual salary?”

His reaction is likely:

  • perturbed
  • wary of you and your motives
  • not going to answer your question under any circumstances

Now let’s change the scenario very slightly.

Let’s assume you are standing in line at Starbucks for your morning coffee. The gentleman ahead of you orders a double espresso. You lean over and ask him:

“Hi, I’m a PHD student doing research on high performers and the use of products with caffeine. Would you mind answering two simple questions about your coffee and demographics for me?”

“Uh…. okay”

Handing him a sheet of paper.

please select your income category

  1. < $80K
  2. $80K – $100K
  3. $100K-$120K
  4. > $120K

99.9% of people will  now answer the question. Why? Because you asked their permission.

Two things happen when you ask permission.

  1. you provide your client a graceful way to decline
  2. you gain their commitment in answering and disclosing the information because they are compelled to fulfill on their agreement to do so.

Let’s look at a simple problem.

flat_tire

You are a little late heading out the door this morning and you go to your car in the driveway. It has a flat tire. You have many solutions to this problem.

  • call the auto club and have them fix it and call the office to say you will be delayed
  • go inside, change into jeans, change the tire for the spare,  go back and change into your business clothes again and drive to the office
  • defer the problem until later, call a cab and go to work

All three resolutions are possible, you can evaluate the impact on your job, your Armani suite or the financial impact of taking a taxi. Whatever you decide, you will be satisfied with the answer because it is your problem.

Now let’s change the parameters slightly.

You have gone out to lunch with your client. They have driven their own car and when you return from lunch, his or her car has a flat tire. You client says “I can’t deal with this right now, you need to fix it.” and hands you the keys.

What are the things you don’t know.

  • Does you client have an auto club membership?
  • Do they have a meeting with the CEO back at the office they cannot miss?
  • Does the client expect you to change the tire in your Armani suit. Will they be upset with your attitude if you don’t.
  • Will the client think a taxi is a waste of money or you are skipping out on the responsibility of fixing the problem by deferring it.
  • If you did call a tow truck, will the delay mean they will miss a key meeting.
  • If they needed to inform the office, do they have a cell phone, the right contact numbers etc.

The list of what you don’t know will keep growing and growing and the probability that you will select a resolution that client will be unsatisfied with is in direct proportion to your lack of knowledge around the problem space.

The only way to resolve this is to ask questions and  to emphasize again.

You will only be successful problem resolution with your client to the degree they give you permission to explore the problem area.

“Do you mind if I ask a couple of logistical questions?”

No problem.. sure

“Do you have an auto club membership?”

“Do you have time constraints for getting back to the office?”

etc.

Permission

coming up…. Part 2 – understanding the problem space

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3 Responses to Problem Solving …. The PHD course (part 1) Permission

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

  2. Pingback: The perfect consultant – The Ambivert? | Infinite Shades of Grey

  3. Pingback: The perfect consultant – The Ambivert? | Infinite Shades of Grey

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