Fixing Problems

August 25, 2011

Chapter 13 – Understanding and Resolving Problems

When you are remote you are physically removed from your team and you are physically removed from team problems. Those problems still affect you, but they are a lot easier to ignore. Don’t use your remote status as an excuse to avoid problems.

Attack The Problem Head On, Then Back Off

If there is a problem within your team then you must attack it head on. Talk to the other members of your team. Be honest about the issues and get everything out in the open. Focus on solutions, not blame. This is easy to say, but it can be the most difficult part of the whole process.

Express your problem in clear objective terms that show how it is negatively impacting you and the rest of the team. Then back off. Don’t push your coworkers to solve problems immediately. Most of the time just raising the issue is enough.

Blame Isn’t Productive

Blame is a specter hovering around every problem. Ignore the urge to blame people for problems. Stay focused on solutions. When you talk about issues make it clear that you are speaking from your own point of view. You can’t know what other people are feeling and it is insensitive to imply that you do. Use a lot of “I” statements to make it clear that you are talking about your feelings.

  • I feel like I’m not being listened to.
  • I’m worried about our schedule.
  • I’m not getting enough information to understand the requirements.


Talking about how to fix a problem is extraordinarily difficult. Let’s look at a hypothetical example:

You have just suggested a new way of solving a problem and your coworker Joe gave you a flat out “no” You could call them on the phone and ask them directly “why don’t you like my solution?”

This is very direct, but it is also very confrontational. This method implicitly accesses Joe of doing something wrong. It also assumes that Joe has looked at your solution, understood it, and then thoughtfully dismissed it. Maybe Joe was just busy and didn’t get a chance to look at it, or maybe Joe has his own solution and doesn’t want to think about another one. You just don’t know. A better way to handle the situation is to listen more.

Start with an “I” statement: “I would like to know more about this problem. Can you help me?” Letting Joe talk first gives your more information about what he was thinking and makes it clear that you don’t want to force your solution on him. Listen to his description and ask a lot of questions.

While the two of you are talking it will probably become clear which solution to the problem is better. Then comes the hardest part. If your solution isn’t the best you have to let it go. It is difficult to abandon work you have done, but finding the better solution is more important than using your solution.

Don’t Lose Your Cool

Blaming someone will not help you solve the problem. It is fine to get emotional, angry, or upset, just do it at home. Buy yourself a punching bag if you need to. Always be professional at work. Talk about what is going wrong and what you think needs to happen to make things go right. Do it clearly and calmly. It doesn’t matter how you got into trouble, it matters how you are going to get out of it.

Solve Big Problems Face-To-Face

Any small problem can become a big one if you add a little time, a little indifference, or a hot temper. If you try to resolve a problem remotely and it doesn’t work then you may have a big problem. When big problems happen it is time for a face-to-face meeting. A lot of these problems are communication problems and it can be difficult to resolve them over the phone. Show your team how important the issue is to you by travelling to resolve it.

Keep The Lines Of Communication Open

If you can’t communicate then you can’t solve anything. As difficult as it may be, just keep talking. Make sure you are available for the rest of the team and insist that they are available for you. When in doubt, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. Ask about the weather. Ask about sports. Ask about anything. Just keep talking.

It Gets Easier With Time

The first problem you try to resolve will probably be the most difficult. As a team your group will learn to resolve problems and get better at it each time you do it. Be patient and keep working at it.

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