Asking People To Have Solutions When They Bring You Their Problems Will Fail – And What To Do Instead

I’ve said it

You may have said it

You probably had it said to you.

It goes like this:

The boss proudly says: “I have an open-door policy!” and then they say, “feel free to bring your problems to me, but bring a solution with it.”

Sounds good?

We believe we are creating high employee engagement.

We think we are encouraging creative thinking.

We hope we are developing future leaders.


What is wrong with that?

What if our high-minded, forward-looking leadership ideas are shutting people down?

Read more about words that shut you down

Let’s pull his apart:

First, you announced an ‘open-door policy, BUT’ … ‘but’ tells the listener that you do not mean what you just said. It means there are conditions.

Then you sat that you want people to bring you their problems; with the qualification that they need to bring solutions.

Well if they had solutions, they wouldn’t need you to help figure it out.

You may very well have shut down all the people who are too afraid to bring problems to you because they don’t have a solution to recommend.

Having people come to your office is a demonstration of the power you have over them.

A better approach is to not hide behind your desk, narrow the power differential by going to them, to their workplace, so you can see what is going on.

Ask open-ended questions, like what is going on? Do you understand where your work fits into the company? Is there anything getting in the way of you meeting your objectives?

Read more about asking the right questions

What Does This Look Like?

I had an employee that whenever I stopped by his worksite, made a series of small and seemingly insignificant requests.

With each request: I listened; took it under advisement.

And, I either addressed his suggestion or responded as to why I couldn’t.

Read more about building trust

Over time we established a high level of trust.

Eventually, he mentioned that a piece of equipment was being used incorrectly and offered a solution that saved over $50,000 in the first year.

He was a good employee, and he worked in another location than I did.

He’d seen bosses come and go and had no reason to trust me that I would ever of fixed anything.

So, the odds of him walking into my office to share his ideas were slim to nil.

So, tell me something, how would my ‘bring me solutions, not problems’ speech work out?