The Importance of Being Solutions-Oriented

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One of the mantras of a past employer of mine was to be “solutions-oriented.” What exactly does that mean?

When things go wrong, we have a tendency to assign blame somewhere. Sometimes we assign blame to others as a way of exonerating ourselves or because we feel angry or disappointed with someone who has let us down in some way. Sometimes we foist blame upon ourselves. This is an Achilles Heel of mine that I have been working on. I have a tendency when I make a mistake to get upset with myself for making the wrong decision, and I often fixate more on my own mistake rather than how I can go ahead and fix it. This crops up in even the most innocuous situations, like making a wrong turn when driving or even choosing the wrong player in my fantasy football lineup.

For the most part, fixating on what went wrong and who did wrong is an exercise in futility. Yes, you want to identify mistakes so you can course correct for the future, but that’s true only if you are actually invested in being solutions-oriented. Many times, the crux of conversation in work environments or even relationships is about making someone feel bad for not meeting the mark. In addition to being an exercise in futility, it is also an exercise in narcissism. When people engage in this type of behavior, they are trying to elevate themselves above others who are imperfect and to absolve themselves of guilt or wrongdoing. The intent is not driven by an interest in the well-being of all parties. If it were, it would be focused on the future and not the past. People who point fingers and look backwards care only about the way they are perceived. People who look backwards with the intention of building a better future are interested in equity for all parties and success for everyone involved.

When it comes to working with others, I find it a lot easier to be solutions-oriented than when I am just dealing with myself. What I mean by that is that I am incredibly unforgiving to myself. If I so much as start the wrong player in a fantasy football matchup, I’ll hold it over my own head for what is objectively an unproductive period of time. If I am playing golf and struggling, I will get down on myself and it will only make things worse. I recently ran the Boston Marathon, and even though I developed a condition called rhabdomyolysis that can literally kill people, I was more fixated on my slower-than-expected time than the fact that I was fairly tough to even have finished the race. In all of these situations, I am eventually able to come to an understanding that beating myself up does not change my circumstances. If anything, it only makes them worse. What I then do is think about what I learned from the experience that can help me do better in the future. Perhaps in fantasy football I need to trust my gut more and do less research. Maybe when golfing, I can remember I am new to the sport and that I need to have bad swings in order to develop good ones. When running a marathon, I can learn the keys of hydration and electrolyte intake to prevent injury.

Strangely, in professional settings and in relationships, I seem to have a better time helping people think about how to be solutions-oriented. One of my best friends recently came to me because he was struggling with the hours and demands of his new job. In that conversation, he was lamenting how he was sleepless and how his Thanksgiving was going to be ruined. None of these negative thoughts were productive, and I helped him to think more positively about how he could use this experience to think about what he really wanted for his future. Was all the money he was making worth the stress and aggravation, or could he use this as a teachable moment to have some conviction about a different career path?

Of course, you need to look backwards in order to inform your future. There needs to be some level of accountability, and yes, that does mean assigning blame to people. If a handful of coworkers are working on a project together and someone drops the ball, the individual who dropped the ball needs to understand their failure in order to fix it in the future. Where being solutions-oriented comes in is with the second step of that process. You need to understand why the individual dropped the ball. Was it actually their fault, or was their poor communication? Maybe the individual had a misunderstanding about a deadline or did not understand the quality of work that needed to be turned in. In that scenario, it is more of an organizational failure. When your intention is purely to point a finger at someone to make them feel bad, you often end up missing the root of the actual issue.

I’ve been pretty discouraged to see in our political dialogue how little interest there is in being solutions-oriented. Most people are hell-bent on being right. As the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict has come and gone, people on the left accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being racists. People on the right champion a gun-wielding child with no business being present at a rally a hero. In both cases, I fear that the mark is being missed. Perhaps the teachable moment there (if anyone were actually interested in progress) is to think about what type of chaos and lack of policing led to a situation where human beings felt compelled to engage in such violence. Anyone who is interested in avoiding these awful situations in the future would think about the “why” behind what happened and would avoid the baseless and unproductive name-calling that only serves to sow even more division. Sadly, it feels like such cries will continue to fall on deaf ears as the human ego and desire to protect our own ideas from others seems more important these days than the greater good for mankind.

So I leave with this one plea. As you engage in discussions – political or otherwise – think about being solutions-oriented. You may be right about something, but as long as you are making other people feel stupid or casting judgment upon them, chances are that you will not actually move forward in a productive way for everyone. When you feel wronged by others, human instinct makes us feel “good” by letting others know how they have failed us. Just make sure when you voice such feelings that you do your best to talk in a way that thinks about how we all do better next time.

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