For every Solution there is a Problem.
The heading is not a typo, bear with me 😉
Whenever we face a Problem we immediately start thinking. That is human nature, we can not stop it. We try to solve the problem and when we think we found a solution most often the solution brings another problem with it.
I'm hungry. That is my problem. Eat something. That is the solution. The new problem: What to select? The new solution: Pizza. The new Problem: There is no pizza in the house. The new solution: Get out and buy one.
This cycle goes on and on: Maybe it's too late, stores are closed. Is there money available? Can I even get to the store? If I order in, is the phone line ok? Can I afford the more expensive delivered pizza?
The original problem caused a chain reaction of solutions and problems. Eventually it will stop. At least in this simple case of me being hungry. I could have stopped the chain right there by choosing something to eat that's available.
But the most interesting part happens, when we involve others into our problem-solution chain.
What is your problem?
I am hungry, I want a pizza, I can not find one. That does not mean there is none, right? Let's ask our spouse:
"Do we have any pizza?" is our initial communication.
"No" is the most likely response. Often followed by "You didn't tell me we need more" or "I didn't have the chance to go shopping, yet" or similar additions.
This opens a complete new problem chain. We are now in a discussion about responsibilities, duties, relationship status, etc. And since I am hungry, I also am grumpy and stuff goes weird/wild. Right?
Doesn't have to be.
We did not communicate our initial problem, i.e. "I am hungry", but instead made the solution into a new problem and then communicated that problem.
Most spouses discover the original problem in this case and might also respond "No, we got no pizza. How about some Lasagne instead?" or similar offerings.
Let's make it easier for them and combine our original problem with our new problem: "I am hungry. Do we have any pizza?" and things will go much smoother.
I want the old car back!
The anecdote that sparked the idea for this post.
In the summer of 2020 we bought a new car. Out first car with ac and some other nice little features. One important feature were the sliding doors for the back seat, so we could always open them completely to put our son (at that point almost 3 years old) comfortably in and out of the car. We had him with us at the dealer's, let him even choose between blue and red as a color and we all (especially our son) were very excited.
Three days after we got the new car he stood in front of me in tears wanting the old car back. He hated the new car, he said. We tried to reason with him, reminding him of all the new features, especially the ac so we would not burn up in the summer time.
After a lot more whining and discussing I asked him: "What did the old car have, that the new car does not have?"
"I was sitting in the front" was his answer.
In the old car it became a habit for him to sit (with proper child protecting seat of course) in the front passenger seat. That habbit was born with him (so to speak). The baby carrier was put there so he would look to the back where mommy was sitting. When he got older and a proper child seat, it didn't make a difference to us, all doors were the same. But the new car had sliding doors for the back seats. We put the child seat to the back so he could more easily climb in and out. But his view out of the car was totally different.
His problem was: "I can not properly see were the car is going."
Solution: "I need to sit in the front seat again"
Problem: "How do I get the front seat?"
Solution: "Get the old car back, there I could sit in the front."
Problem: "How do I get the old car back?"
And that is when he decided to communicate. But not his initial problem, instead he chose his supposed solution: "I want the old car back!"
Had he said "I want to sit in the front again" or even the original problem: "I can not see where we are going anymore", about half an hour of whining and arguing would have been unnecessary.
Now he is happily sitting in the front passenger seat again during our trips while my wife enjoys the comfort of a sliding door. 😉
Be aware of the original problem
So the next time I tell someone what I want or need, I stop for a second and rethink what I am saying. What is the original problem? Am I communicating that problem or another problem down the chain?
Maybe there is a solution to my original problem I have not thought of and the person I am talking to might be able to help with that.
And if someone else wants or needs something, I think for a moment, if what I am hearing/reading is the initial problem or if there is more to it. Especially if I can not help them, a reminder "What is the actual problem?" might cause the other person to reveal it and maybe then I can help them.