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The power of defining what you want

Managers Problem Solve

Many managers state that their conversations at work are all about problem solving. Topics range from issues with the boss, to a conflict with a peer or direct report, to a misunderstanding with a coworker.

Are you the manager who tells your people to come with solutions not problems? While that is a good goal, unless the manager learns how to lead the conversation in a solution focused way, it can be downright frustrating to the employee who does not know how to get to a solution. They have not been taught to think this way. This is where the manager needs to structure the conversation differently.

Structure the Conversation

Rather than pick apart the problem, and go into diagnostic mode, it is better to find out what “good” looks like, what the solution would bring them, or what kind of relationship the person desires with their coworker. By the manager focusing on the solution and asking the employee what it looks like, how she can get there, what strategy she will use, the conversation will be framed better for solution.

By asking, “What desired outcome do you want? Or “what kind of relationship do you want with this coworker?” we are moved into positive, solution oriented territory rather than the dark hole of problem talk, he said/she said, and more and more detail surrounding the issue. The way you will know that you are in problem-talk is conversations spiral downward, or in a circle, and you fail to move forward towards anything positive. These conversations focus on the many dimensions of the problem, not the person. You have smart problem solvers on your team, no doubt who have analyzed the problem. Teach them to come to you ready to talk about the solution. Try “What kind of relationship do you want? What would the solution provide you?” for it provides positive energy, and a fresh hopefulness when you structure this focus on the future.  

Ask Questions

The way to cut through the problem talk is to ask questions about the person’s desired outcome. For example, “what do you want in this situation?” or if the talk is around a relationship, “what does your desired relationship look like with this coworker?” or, “what will you notice, what will show you that things are better? What steps can you take to move the ball forward?”

Solution Focused

Once you ask those types of questions and have created a positive space, the other person will have shifted and will be ready to think differently. It is easy to complain and blame others. What takes thought and careful reflection is to really get true with yourself and ask yourself what you want from a relationship or situation. There is a lot of power that comes from speaking the truth and then going out and working towards what you need. It also increases employee engagement and accountability. Solution focused conversations are faster, more stimulating, motivating, and they put the emphasis on enabling the other person to solve the issue. Who doesn’t want more of that kind of ownership on their team?


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