Deal With The Problem, Not The Symptom
July 24, 2020
One of the operating challenge we have in our daily lives is dealing with and solving problems.
Unfortunately, many times, our problem is that we don’t even know what the “Real Problem” is !!
Most of us try to solve the problems we encounter without even knowing whether we are dealing with the symptom or the root of the problem. Often, we are dealing with the symptom and not the problem.
If I have a pain in my back, I’ll take a painkiller. Unfortunately, pain is just the symptom. The underlying issue is something else. It is my bad posture while at work that is coming out as the back pain. So, by taking the painkiller, I am not solving the problem. I am just managing the symptom.
Let’s shift the perspective on this issue.
Imagine you have a recurring cough, and you go to the Doctor. The Doctor, without doing a thorough check-up prescribes a cough syrup to deal with the symptom- How would you feel? Would it be acceptable?
What would your expectation be? That the Doctor does a thorough check-up, understands the issue, and prescribes the appropriate treatment. Even though it may be nothing more than just a touch of cold, you want the Doctor to make sure it is not an allergy , or a chest infection or something more severe or sinister.
Now, think of the big problems you have to deal with- Do you take the effort to understand them before getting headlong in trying to solve the problem?
There is this confirmation bias in all of us. We think we know what the problem is. With half baked comprehension and understanding, we engage in problem-solving. Obviously, the problem doesn’t get solved. We then blame the world, people, and situations. We convince ourselves that the problem is elsewhere, and there is nothing we can do about it.
This is a real conversation I had a couple of years back with a friend of mine. He was very bitter because he felt he was being sidelined for some critical projects at his workplace. He thought that the problem was with his boss, who was favoring another colleague.
I went through a coaching conversation where it was just a series of “Why’s.”
ME: “What is the problem?”
MY FRIEND: “My boss is propping up my colleague when I am more deserving.”
ME:“Why do you think he is doing that?”
MY FRIEND: “Because he likes the other person over me.”
ME:“Why do you think he likes you less than the other person?”
MY FRIEND:“Because I don’t suck up to him while the other colleague sucks up to him.”
ME:“Why do you think the other person is sucking up to your boss?”
MY FRIEND:“Because he is always going and reporting stuff to him, getting him involved in everything he does, and always trying to make himself look good.”
ME:“If you call that sucking up, then why don’t you also do the same?”
MY FRIEND: “I like to be independent. I don’t like my boss getting involved in my work. I like to deliver results on my own”
ME: “So, is the problem that you don’t like to involve your boss in your work, or is the problem your boss?”
The conversation ended productively with my friend realizing that he was not doing some obvious stuff to keep his supervisor informed about the good work he was putting in. That was the root cause leading to his supervisor being ignorant about all that he was doing. Over the next couple of months, he fixed the issue and informed me that he no longer had a problem with his boss.
Diagnosing the problem correctly is critical to ensure that the right actions happen. For most people, a lot of stress comes from their inability to identify the root causes of the issues they have in their life.
Most times, the solution is in our grasp. We just need to identify the problem correctly.
Don’t jump to conclusions and commit to action without being sure about the problem. It is not the Wrong Solution to the Right problem that is an issue. It is solving the wrong problem in the first place; that is the real issue. This is the reason why many struggle to solve their problems.
Albert Einstein said it best- “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”