While there are several lists that discuss the differences between a problem talker and a problem solver, not many tell you how to deal with the problem talkers or how to get them to add value. Problem solvers or doers are easy to spot – they are productive, time-sensitive, and reliable. I personally love problem solvers, as do most leaders I have met over the years. The one caveat is that, they will sometimes be disruptive if not managed appropriately, but rest assured, we have all met problem solvers and we can spot them easily. Whether they are organizing a garage, driving a product sale, or running a product line, they stand out.
Problem talkers, however are not so easy to spot. Transforming these talkers into doers is tricky!
As much as we love problem solvers, in a real world, we need to work with both doers and talkers. More often than not, when we meet slick talkers, their eloquence can carry us away. However, at the end of the conversation, we may be left with this nagging feeling that something is amiss. Trust this feeling! It is a sure sign that you have just been enthralled by the “talking” prowess of a problem talker who lacks follow-through. As leaders, we need to learn to quickly spot problem talkers and many times guide them into actually getting work done.
Traits of Problem Talkers
Love to criticize – These people love to criticize and share their thoughts of what’s wrong. Only problem is that their criticisms are not always constructive
Host epic meetings – They can endlessly discuss problems without getting anywhere
Are expert theorizers – Even when problem talkers seem like they are thinking about solutions, they are really just theorizing without a clear plan of action.
Delegate endlessly – While delegating work is a good thing, problem talkers are notorious for over-delegating in order to escape the “doing” part of their job.
Are mood hoovers – Are full of complaints and try to victimize themselves in order to get other people to do the actual work for them. They can drain your energy.
Have a ready list of excuses – These glib talkers have a ready list of excuses that almost sound like valid reasons. Be discerning while they talk.
They are all over – Here’s the tricky part, problem talkers are not just your subordinates, they can be your managers, peers, and customers too.
Time to hit the Transformation Button
Here’s the first thing that you need to do in order to transform a problem talker into a problem solver:Catch them red-handed! Catch these people in the act by being mindful of conversations. Listen carefully and analyze if the conversations you have while discussing issues lead to actionable solutions. If not, the conversation is just a waste of time. So once you’ve caught this person red-handed, follow these steps:
Prod for solutions
When you know that someone is discussing problems, prod them for plausible solutions. Be careful to make sure this person is thinking about implementable solutions rather than perfectly thought-through theories.
Ask – “Would we be able to implement this?”
By asking this question you are creating a certain level of accountability and this is a start.
Move on to an action plan or strategy
Ask the person to help out with a clear way-forward action plan. This will most likely be a “Problem, Hypothesis, and Solution with Concrete Steps” sort of document. You will be creating a higher level of accountability with this step and this will help all parties to see concrete steps to be implemented.
While assigning/ delegating tasks strive for balance. Make sure nobody is overload and that you are assigning tasks based on skill level. Ensure that your “problem talker,” clearly understand the tasks assigned to them and that the task has been assigned based on individual strengths.
Prescribe timelines for every action item
Instead of setting a deadline for an entire solution, start by prescribing timelines for every action item and also be flexible about them to a certain extent. This way, you can actually keep track of the progress.
Help them get started
Even after following steps 1–5; a serial problem talker might need help getting started. Offer suggestions and resources to help them do their job. Make sure that you are actually teaching this person “how to fish,” rather than actually providing a cooked fish to him/her!
Once the solution is actually implemented, have a discussion about it. Talk about results and what could have been done better. Share constructive feedback.
For all you wondering how to handle your “problem talking” superior – I won’t lie – it is tricky. You need to be extremely diplomatic and actually manage your manager. Send them reminders and tell them why you need them to do something. I often find that reminding superiors about their true strengths at work actually makes them understand their role and why they were actually chosen for the role.
If your efforts to transform a problem talker into a problem solver are futile, know when to cut your losses and move on. You may do this by ending business with an unproductive client who simply cannot appreciate your good work, moving to a different team, or letting go on an employee who is deadweight.
Each one of us is a leader in our own right. As leaders we need to grab a bull by its horns and commit to success. Problem Talkers are a big problem and we need to skillfully transform them into Problem Solvers. Go get it!
Edwin has authored 9Lenses Insight to Action:A Social Approach to Business Optimization and Snapshot9 What’s Your Picture?:Accelerate Your Business Performance. Click here to download the first chapter of 9Lenses Insight to Action for free!