Solving problems: Bury Circumstances and Grow Opportunities

blog general Jan 03, 2023

Thirty minutes into a discussion, my client, Jeff, finally threw his hands up.  His irritation was palpable.  Looking around the room, the feeling was consistent.

“We’ve been around and around on this issue and are no closer to a solution than when it was first brought up four months ago. I’ll ask again — what’s the root cause?!”

After a few uncomfortable seconds, Ryan spoke up. “Our sales suck. We have three salespeople who refuse to leave the office, two are complete misfits and another kicks butt, but is a complete jerk to work with.

On top of that, one client just let us know they are tightening up their PO process, two other accounts said they’re leaving to work with our competition and trade issues are scaring our industry. What do you want me to do, Jeff?”

If only Jeff had said, “Keep buying into your circumstances, Ryan. That sounds like a good plan.” Instead, he opted for, “I don’t care…just sell more!”

Futility is defined as pointless or useless and too many issue resolution discussions are futile from the start.

Kick Circumstances to the Curb

We’re creatures of our circumstances. They are personal, impactful, and ever-present. When challenged about why I fail to get something done, I immediately look to my circumstances as the most legitimate excuse. I wake up every day crafting them and the only mechanism to put my circumstances to rest is sleep.

When we get caught in the grip of our circumstances, the question “What’s the root cause?” more frequently moves us deeper into the rabbit-hole of the issue.

Given the relationship we have with our circumstances, it’s challenging to get space between them and ourselves.  But it’s not impossible.

Eliminating circumstantial futility starts with a clear, conversational structure that is very simple, but not easy at first.  It requires you and your team to separate yourselves from your circumstances — and especially your frustration —  surrounding the problem or issue on hand. This structure moves the focus from the problem/issue to what you really want.  After all, an issue is just an obstacle standing in the way of what you want.

Four Questions to Move You from Futility to Utility

  1. What’s the issue in one sentence? This forces the person presenting the issue to bottom line it, which is a fast and effective way to stay out of our circumstances about the issue.
  2. What is it you really want for which this issue is an obstacle?  We get caught in the throes of our issues and circumstances, but those are just obstacles to what we really want. By asking this question, we shift our thinking to the future (want) versus the past (need).
  3. What’s the first step in getting what you want? This moves us from thinking into action. It’s great to identify what we want, but real value is in action. You may repeat this question a few times with “What’s the second step?  The third step?”
  4. Are you solved? This moves us to completion and confidence in a plan of attack. It helps prevent lingering in circumstances which is so common in most discussions.

Practice these questions in your next team meeting or in any conversation involving issues or being stuck. Just remember, our circumstances are very familiar, but we must separate from them if we are to be more effective problem solvers.


Preston True 
✆ 248.219.9435
✉ [email protected]


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