You Know The Answer

“…he found they often gave an accurate self-diagnosis [they already knew the answer]” This was part of a description of Dr. Vivek Murthy, Obama’s former surgeon general.

Full Description

“Murthy was ‘Mr. Bedside Manner,’ with a soothing voice. As a practicing physician, he had learned to spend abundant time listening to patients because they often gave an accurate self-diagnosis.”

Answer known

As I read this I recalled how often, in the course of my consulting work with business owners, that they, or their leadership team, already had the answer but didn’t realize that they had it. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.

My client had a morale problem. Their employees were doing highly-repetitive, mind-numbing work. The employees wanted to be able to use headsets to provide music or other forms of entertainment while they were doing the work. My client resisted repeated attempts by their employees to get permission to use these devices. When I asked why they resisted, they said “We’re afraid that productivity will decline.”

I suggested that they allow their employees to have the headsets with the caveat that, if their productivity declined, the right to use headsets would be retracted. All the elements of the answer were known to my client, they simply didn’t see a way to combine them into a solution. 

In a similar fashion, a friend who had recently started a coaching business, was being told by other friends, who were also business owners, that she should be doing facebook videos. She told me that she didn’t like doing videos because she didn’t get audience feedback like she did as a speaker. You’re ahead of me, aren’t you?

I told her “If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. The videos won’t be very good and you’re not likely to be consistent in using this marketing tool. You’ll be better off seeking more opportunities to speak.” In actuality, she finished the last sentence for me. She had the answer, she just didn’t realize that she did.

These examples beg the question “Why is it that we don’t realize that we have the answer?”

Overlooking the answer

Given that we have all the elements of an answer, why do we so often fail to see solutions as obvious as those cited in the examples above? The simple answer is that we see a potential problem associated with the answer and assume that the potential problem is the expected outcome from our answer. This assumption leads us to dismiss this answer as untenable. Hence, we become locked into a belief that isn’t true…an outcome that we feel is inevitable.

Imagine what would happen if, instead of assuming that an anticipated, undesirable outcome will result, we ask ourselves “How can I employ this answer without triggering the result I’m anticipating?” This question opens your mind to a wide array of possible solutions.

Let’s see how we can blend this information into an actionable plan for helping your become aware of the answers you already possess.

For you

Whenever you find yourself struggling to find an answer to the situation you’re facing, pause a moment. During the pause your emotions wane and you’ll gain clarity and objectivity. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I know about the situation?
  • What do I feel is the right answer [solution]?
  • Why am I resisting this answer?
  • How can I reframe the answer to overcome that resistance?

That’s essentially what I, and I suspect Dr. Murthy, do. We hear the solution in what the person says, identify the reason for the resistance, then propose a way for dealing with that resistance.

Here’s another tip to help you in this process: describe the situation to someone whom you know cares about you. The simple act of describing what you’re experiencing often highlights the real issues in a way that makes the answer obvious.

I learned this lesson in college. I was farther along in my accounting education than some of my friends. Yet, when I was struggling with a new concept I’d ask them to listen to me describe my dilemma. They’d resist saying that they weren’t far enough along in their studies to help me.

I assured them that I wasn’t looking for them to provide the answer, I just needed someone to listen to me describe the problem. Somehow I knew that organizing my thoughts to succinctly lay out the problem would help me gain the understanding that I needed. This simple approach never failed to help me gain the insights I needed to answer the question on my own.

For our kids

When your kids find themselves wrestling with an issue with no apparent solution, lead them through the process outlined above. Let them know that simply sharing their dilemma with someone who cares about them will usually help them realize that they already know the answer. It’s a lot better than the “trust your gut” advice we so often get.

It also helps for you to share your dilemma with them. They do care about you and they want to help. Kids can listen as effectively as the rest of us. By sharing your dilemma with them, you not only get the answer you seek, you let them know that you respect their intelligence which will dramatically enhance their confidence in their ability to deal with life’s challenges. 

They’ll also employ this technique repeatedly throughout their lives because they experienced its power through their shared experience with you.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, As usual you tackle some interesting issues! My experience suggests that most of my clients have a better understanding of the business than I could ever hope to have. I can learn enough about their business to ask good questions and then let them talk out loud. It’s amazing, as you said, that most of the time they answer their own problem with solutions I couldn’t possibly offer!

    • dfurtwengler

      Bill, your experience holds in all aspects of life. In one of my employments, before becoming a consultant, I was given credit and collection responsibilities. I knew bupkis about credit and collection. Despite the research I had done, I had not come up with a definitive solution to my new employer’s collection problems. During one of our daily discussions the owners mentioned a “no ship” policy. It made perfect sense. I implemented it and we got amazing results…based on the answer they already had. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bill.

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