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The art of problem solving

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When employees face a serious problem, you want them to open up to you. But what you do is almost as important as what you say.

If you can show that you sincerely care about helping them through their difficulty, you’ll earn their trust. But if you downplay their demons or offer flippant advice, you create wounds that will not soon heal.

Follow these rules:

Don’t deny the problem. Even if you think an employee is exaggerating, don’t rush to say so. Shrugging a problem aside and shaking your head as if to say, “That’s a trivial issue so forget about it,” will not reassure someone who is genuinely conflicted.

The worst response is, “No big deal. Everything will work out.” The employee will be doubly upset because now you’ve minimized the problem.

Resist distractions. When someone’s agonizing over something, they want your undivided attention. Signal that you’re ready to listen by putting aside whatever else you’re doing and redirecting incoming calls so that you don’t need to answer the phone.

Follow up. After the employee raises the issue, don’t jump in with snappy advice or tell anecdotes about how you have dealt with similar problems. Keep the focus on the other person. Ask clarifying questions to uncover more information. Give answers or a clear indication of when you’ll be able to provide some.

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