2019 Conference

STR1: How to Solve Difficult Problems

People can come to you with some strange, emotional, downright frustrating requests, Sven Aas of Mount Holyoke College told an audience at High Ed Web 2019 Monday. But, he said, you can help solve those problems by taking the time to judge them fairly and remembering that that people who are making those requests have their own story to tell.

“What’s behind the request?” Aas asked. In his own work life, Aas said he’s working to consider that the people who are coming to him with projects have likely done their own homework. We tend to bring our own biases to our work. Communicators may think differently than faculty. Media relations may think differently than the social media team. IT may think differently than the administration and vice versa. But all those folks are experts in their fields.

“Have I ever realized to my horror that I was explaining to an expert what their job is?” he asked. The answer was yes.

His solution had several steps.

First, help the requester of a project understand that you’re a smart person too by carefully considering their perspective.
Assume good faith.
Remember that everyone is dealing with challenges of their own. “The person who is your big challenge at the moment may be experiencing the worst day of their life.”  Be kind.
Remember the power of no, but don’t say no immediately.  “It’s kinder, it’s more respectful. It’s much less likely to embarrass you and it’s much more likely to result in a properly considered decision.”
And, be mindful of how you feel. Take a deep breath and assess how you’re feeling if you start to feel frustration rising.

We also have a tendency to ask “What problem are you trying to solve” of requesters. But while that can open up the conversation  “sometimes it gets in the way of listening” Aas said.

Aas said he’s found that working more and talking less helps too.

“Rememer, no one has it all figured out,” he said. But, you can work with a requester to solve their specific tough problem.

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