A Trap for the Unwary
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The temptation to offer solutions for those facing a problem is overwhelming. Therein lies the trap for unwary advisors.
Several years ago, a friend met with me. He wanted to talk about his health and his business.
He has a chronic medical issue, which is exacerbated by stress. He runs a thriving manufacturing business. He has a first-class management team reporting to him.
His problem was the stress level triggered by work was aggravating his medical condition.
I asked him what an ideal resolution of his issue would look like.
He told me it would be a situation where he could run his business with little or no stress.
A trap for the unwary
If you’ve read my books and articles, you know that giving advice – even when someone asks you for it – is dangerous territory.
If the answer to my friend’s problem was obvious, he would have thought of it. I have no special insight into the issue he presented that he had not already likely considered.
If I fell into the trap of presenting a solution, it would trivialize the problem and make him feel diminished or resentful. This was the opposite of my intention.
Instead, I followed the lessons in my research and substituted empathy and asking questions for glib responses.
Initially, I said, “That sounds like a very frustrating situation since you appear to be torn between two conflicting goals – running your business and reducing stress. How are you dealing with that?”
After further discussion, I asked him this question:
If you were interviewing candidates to replace you as president of your company and found an eminently qualified person who had one firm demand: She had to be assured taking this position would not be stressful. What would your response be?
He immediately responded: “I wouldn’t hire her.”
Then he paused and said: “I guess I’ve answered by own question. My ideal solution isn’t viable.”
He wanted to discuss his options, given that revelation. I asked him this question: “How competent is the management you’ve put in place at your company?”
He replied: “They are world-class.”
I then asked: “Can they run the company without you?” He said: “I don’t know.”
I said: “You indicated they are world-class. Are you the only one who can make a peanut butter sandwich?”
He smiled and said: “Maybe not.”
A happy ending
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He told his management team they would be taking over while he took some time off. He indicated he didn’t know if his absence would be temporary or permanent. He asked them to send him monthly reports, but to only contact him if they felt it was absolutely necessary.
When we spoke a year after he made this decision, he was a new man. The management team increased revenues and profits.
With his new-found time, he did meaningful activities with his spouse, children and grandchildren. He developed new hobbies (he’s quite the cook now). He lost weight and focused on diet and exercise. Predictably, his health improved.
He told me he’s never been happier.
His story is a prime example of the power of asking questions.
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