Become a Problem Solver and Control Your Own Destiny

Problem solving has become a skill that is practiced by few and in demand by many. Instead of solving our own problems, we hire someone else to do it for us. People hire professionals to solve all sorts of problems that most people used to deal with themselves. While this may create a comfortable barrier for some, it also provides the opportunity for others to make major league mistakes in our name.

Just ask anyone in the corporate workplace how many times they wished that an email or memo sent out in their name had been looked over or proof read more carefully. Ask any client of a tax preparation service who has been called for an audit or fined whether or not it was worth it to have someone else prepare his or her return. Most decisions to allow others to take care of your problems come from what you may perceive as lack of time to do it yourself.

We are all overwhelmed with information, communication and time issues. People demand immediate answers to lengthy emails, memos, letters or phone calls. Tax and other official forms get longer and more complicated each year. Just keeping your car registration, driver’s license or even a library card up to date seems to require answers to several dozen questions and a visit to some place where you have to take a number and wait four hours to see someone who resents helping you. Just paying your bills each month can turn into a monotonous chore. Therefore, you take some shortcuts.

You sign up for online bill pay with your bank. You allow auto-pay to handle whatever bill pay cannot. You pay an extra fee or two to avoid standing in line for some license or card renewal. You write a couple of sentences and allow staff members to fill in the blanks when it comes to emails, letters or memos. You handle a few important calls by saying hello, and then turn the call over to someone else to hammer out the details. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with all of this. Everything is right with the world until the system fails you.

You start being over-charged by your utility, cable or phone company even after they promised a practically infallible system of monthly auto-pay. Despite using bill pay through a bank or payment system, your credit card, vehicle or revolving charge payments start arriving late leaving you stuck with fees and credit problems. Friends, business associates and family members become annoyed with you because they receive impersonal emails, letters or phone calls from someone other then you. You become a victim of identity theft because of all those time saving forms you filled out on line.

At some point, you become aware that handling things and solving problems yourself can have some distinct advantages. It’s all about learning how to face the problem monsters, successfully defeat them and confront the time wasters who create these horrors. The truth is that no one has time for every demand that people like placing on him or her. I have seen more then a few people simply implode and run away from families, jobs and schools because the pressure got to them. It didn’t have to go that far if they had been willing to try to solve even the smallest of their problems. It’s not the big problems that defeat us, but a thousand small ones.

Becoming a problem solver means creating a realistic limit on the things that place demands on your daily life. It means prioritizing. You can’t take Aunt Suzy shopping, answer all your communications, attend the wedding of your third cousin removed, watch your children’s ballgame and take your wife out for lunch, all at the same time. You have to learn how to say, “No.” You cannot allow people to send you on any number of endless guilt trips because you do not have the time to do what everyone expects of you. Their expectations are based on their own needs, not yours. They are the ones who ought to feel guilty.

Successful problem solving means learning to balance your personal and professional life. This often means making some hard choices. There are many wealthy people out there today worth millions of dollars who also have two or more ex-spouses and lots of child support payments. That’s because few relationships can stand up to one partner working a twelve or fourteen hour day and the other doing everything else.
If work is your life, keep your personal choices wide open and avoid walking down the wedding aisle. If marriage, a long-term relationship and children are important to you, make sure you have the time needed to invest in those things. Choose your job or business with your personal life in mind. Remember, no one will ever take care better of your family, job or business better then you. This doesn’t mean micro managing. It does mean being able to be around when your needed for tough business decisions or family responsibilities. Since you cannot be everywhere at once, you need to limit the number of issues that will require your personal attention at any one time.

Being a good problem solver also means becoming a tough negotiator. People have to understand that you are not like the rest of the crowd that will often cave in to avoid a confrontation. That doesn’t mean that you always have to bring a machine gun to the negotiating table. Sometimes you can bring a jar of honey. The idea is to find out what your opponent needs to complete the deal. As long as you’re not on the losing end, what does it matter? If negotiating is an important skill for a problem solver to possess, being able to communicate successfully is vital.

Too many people write long-winded letters, emails or memos. Others leave long provocative voice messages. They will do this because they lack good communication skills or simply want to make themselves look self-important and put you on the spot. Such communications are often pointless time wasters, but still require a response. If you can actually figure out what they are trying to say, respond with a short answer and leave the door open for future discussion at your convenience. If it’s just a communication designed to get your goat, send a prepared, form-like response saying that you appreciate their input and will take it into consideration. The good book offers some great advice on this. It tells us to ignore a foolish question. Otherwise, in trying to answer, we sound as foolish as the person who asked it.

The final piece of the problem solver puzzle involves being prepared for any eventuality. Decide, in advance, how you will respond to most any situation. This puts you in the driver’s seat and takes the momentary advantage of surprise away from any competitor, adversary or opponent. The most successful people in the world are those who have been able to take charge of their lives in every way. They are also the most dangerous to their competition. Taking charge means being ready for what life throws at you, limiting the number of demands on your time, handling your own finances and controlling your own destiny.

Author: Bill Knell
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