Asking the Right Question

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The other day, G was venting to me about the administrator in his school asking for yet more details about his lessons.  Each week, he provides details to her about the lessons planned – and each week he gets a “great – but, can you include…” response.

Each time he gets the message, he vents about it.  He gets frustrated. He’s annoyed.  He’s pissy about how much more work he is being asked to do.  He wonders if she is trying to push him out of the school.  Overall, her email is seen as negative – so he goes negative.
Sunday’s rant was typical.  We talked about how he could approach it.  Maybe bury her with info.  Maybe doing this or that, when finally, he said – “I need to talk to her.”
Turns out he had just been getting frustrated – gave her what she wanted – then started the cycle over.
“Have you ever asked her what the problem is she is trying to solve by asking you to do all of this work?”
Nope.  He had not.  
So he did.  Turns out what was being viewed as a personal attack on his style and method of teaching was not that.  It was a communication issue.  Parents asked – she didn’t know how to answer – so she was trying to get educated to answer appropriately by asking all of these questions.  Her problem was not being fixed by her solution.  And because neither was asking the right question – the wrong answer was always given.  
I had a mentor a long time ago who used to remind us as IT people to ask that question.  People like solutions – they like believing they know what they need, so they ask for it.  Then we would deliver it, and they would be frustrated because it did not solve their problem.  So, instead of doing that cycle again and again – he would remind us to ask “what is the problem you are trying to solve?”
I found throughout the years that asking that question in times where emotions are flying high – when people are frustrated by the answer I’m giving.  Asking for confirmation that I understood the problem was key.  What is the problem you are trying to solve? Or you are looking to solve? Or you are looking for me to understand?   Variations of this question have shut down many an emotional discussions.  
But sometimes it is hard – to shift from emotional and logical. Setting asides that emotion for the time being so you can deal with the issue at hand – the issue causing your emotions.  
It’s funny though – doing it always has some interesting results. 
And you realize how all of that frustration and venting and ranting and anger was not worth it all. 
Had you just asked the right question……

What do you think?