Tackling Important Issues Head On

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by an issue that it’s hard for you to take any action, even when you know you need to? Maybe all you can think about is the time and energy it will take to think through the problem, and the implications of the possible outcomes. Well, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are some practical ways to get “unstuck” and move forward. The best way I can illustrate this is by describing a recent coaching conversation.

Jane and I discussed her need for more flexibility in her work hours and location. She feels compelled to make a change because she just isn’t happy. Jane has worked very hard to get to her current level of career success and is valued by her company, but she is afraid to rock the boat. She loves her work and isn’t ready to give up a good thing, but she is also exhausted by her hectic schedule between work and home.

She feels like her only options are to live with it or leave her job. As you can imagine, the thought of leaving her job scares her. What if she can’t replicate what she values about her current role and employer or, even worse, what if she can’t find a job at all in the current economy?

So, you can see how a situation like this could be overwhelming. The bottom line is that she feels stuck and hasn’t taken any action.

Regardless of the specific situation, here are three key things to consider when tackling an issue:

1. Examine how you've framed the issue.

It’s important to ask yourself a few questions to make sure you’ve framed the issue appropriately: “What problem am I really trying to solve? How else can I look at the situation? How narrowly have I defined the issue?” In Jane’s case, her focus was on choosing whether to live with her current situation or leave her job. But at the heart of it, it was really more about getting the flexibility she needed in her life—not just choosing between two options. Once she reframed the issue, she could envision options that felt more comfortable than the two in front of her.

2. Identify what is really keeping you from taking action.

In Jane’s situation, one important factor is that she is exhausted and doesn’t have the energy or time to reflect—which is what she said she needs to make a good decision. So, rather than jumping right in to solve the bigger issue (“live with it” or “leave it”), she needs time to get some perspective. For Jane, the options could range from setting some boundaries for work, taking vacation time, taking a leave of absence, or asking others for help.

3. Break the bigger issue down into manageable pieces.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to take action on right now? Is it really solving the entire problem?” Maybe all you need to do is figure out where to start. If you can commit to one or two small steps in the right direction, often that’s enough to create the momentum you need to keep going.

In Jane’s case, she needs to define her flexibility needs. What would that mean in terms of hours and work schedule? How would that impact her ability to get her job done? What support would she need from the company? At the end of the day, what is she really asking for?

So if you are tackling an important issue (whether it’s about flexibility or something else) and feel stuck, take a deep breath and ask yourself a few questions. It can do wonders to help you move forward. How you frame a problem and break it down can make a huge difference in your ability to solve it. Just remember to also work through any underlying issues that may be holding you back.

So, at this point you might be wondering, “How does Jane’s story end?” Well it’s still in process, but I’m happy to report that she is exploring some creative win/win options with her current employer.