Problem Solving: The Challenge of Getting Below the Surface
In doing some research for a project, I recently came across a term that intrigued me; a “wicked problem” is a social or culture problem that is difficult or impossible to solve -- poverty, sustainability, equality, health and wellness. In this sense wicked is not about evil, but more of the slang interpretation of “wicked hard to solve. “ I read articles in both the Harvard Business Review and Standard Social Innovation Review…before my husband walked in the room to ask for some advice.
MIKE: After nearly 25 years of marriage, you would think I know her better, or at least would have been wise enough to check her internet browser to get a sense of her state of mind. I thought I did the right thing, by asking first if she had time to help. I knew she had been engrossed in her computer, but I had a question that couldn’t wait. She said yes.
He started by relaying something that one of the kids had experienced the night before, and I could tell he was not happy about it. Super Dad was on the warpath. He felt one of his cubs had been treated poorly and he was hot about it. It is one of the traits I love about him; he is a fierce protector of the kids and a champion when a child is sad or hurt.
I listened intently to his story as he relayed his version of the facts. Then I asked a few questions to get to the heart of the matter. In my view he had a right to feel the way he did, yet the problem solver in me probed to go beyond the surface level to determine a plan of action.
MIKE: Ugghhh…her problem-solving skills while great, are not always appreciated when I need to feel right. I was worked up. My child felt frustrated. I agreed with him. In the heat of the moment I wanted my spouse to be on my side and say, “oh, yes, you are so right, and let’s go together and kick some butt!”
You see, some call it a blessing, and some call it a curse to listen, probe and break down an issue into the actionable items. In my professional corporate communication experience, I had been trained to get at the real heart of an issue. In my experience people stay in the emotional reaction, which sometime prevents people from dissecting what triggered the feelings in in the first place.
MIKE: It’s a curse.
Here’s an example of what I mean, from our past. Unbeknownst to me at the time, child Number 1 saw an email from me to her dad about a tuition payment. She got concerned about it and announced defiantly that she would be paying for her own bills going forward and stormed out of the room. I look at my husband and said, “What did you say to her?” Okay, not my finest hour there.
After a few hours, when Number 1 returned to the room -- and the universe of parent conversation -- we realized she had seen the email and interpreted a comment in a way that did align with what I meant. It had nothing to do with the cost of tuition, and everything to do with her worrying about us being disappointed with a choice she made. It was not true. We love her unconditionally.
Sometimes our family issues are “Wicked Problems,” resistant to resolution because it is interconnected to other things like love, self-esteem, self-doubt and other insecurities. We have to dig below the surface and claim out parental powers as Wicked Family Problem Solvers who ZagZig whenever necessary.