I’ve heard about Dale Carnegie my whole life since my dad, a retired real estate broker, frequently referred to him. In “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” I was particularly struck by the simplicity of Chapter 5. It deals with worrying about “problems.” Dale Carnegie’s instructions for tackling problems are succinctly asked:
1) What is the problem?
2) What is the cause of the problem?
3) What are the possible solutions to the problem?
4) What solution do you suggest?
Mr. Carnegie no doubt intended for this check-list to be used to help deal with worry and anxiety. But the more I thought about it, the more I discovered that this approach can also be preventatively applied before burdening others with so called “problems.” When bringing forth any kind of problem-either to my manager, to my spouse, to my children or my pastor; addressing these 4 questions ensures a more positive outcome.
If I were a manager, I think I would appreciate if an employee addressed these questions before coming to me with their issues. Why? Because simply identifying a problem is easy. To a manager, however, it can be perceived as complaining or worse “whining.” The employee who complains without offering a solution, risks the possibility of becoming a reminder of the problem. Who wants to be associated with what’s wrong with the company? But to identify a problem; explain what you believe to be its cause; identify some potential solutions and then to finally offer the best solution can actually help management solve the problem.
Additionally, the complaining-only approach risks that management will impose their own solution. Remember, it’s the job of managers to resolve problems in the workplace lest the problem interfere with productivity. But management doesn’t always have the insight that an employee most affected by the problem has and to entrust them to operate with the necessary facts to come up with the best solution is risky. Their “solution” could be as undesirable or worse than the problem. An employee who offers suggestions to the problem, at minimum helps management come up with the best fix and can thereby can be seen as a problem solver.
This checklist to problem solving is useful in all areas of life. To go through the effort of bringing forth a problem should always have a positive solution appended to it. To do otherwise can be construed as complaining.