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Four Ways to Crack a Problem

So how smart are you? Pretty smart? Above average? You may be surprised to learn that more than 70% of people think they are pretty smart or above average. That’s most of us. Which is why, if someone questions our solution to a problem, we may get offended. After all, smart or above average people know what they are doing.

On April 19, 1995, McArthur Wheeler robbed two banks in Pittsburgh (PA). He didn’t have a mask and made no attempt to hide his face from the surveillance cameras. Apparently, he thought he was invisible because he had covered his face with lemon juice. He figured that lemon juice is used as invisible ink so splashing it on his face would prevent his face from being recorded on cameras.

Wheeler thought he was so smart that he could outthink the bank’s security and the police. In reality he was too stupid to realize that he was stupid. Unfortunately, he is not alone. In fact, this level of stupidity is quite common. David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology and his graduate student assistant, Justin Kruger wrote published their research on this phenomenon. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

This illusion of intellectual superiority affects all of us. Sometimes, it makes us oblivious to the faults in our own “brilliant” thinking. Which is why it is best to start solving a problem by listening with humility. Listen to

  • the people facing the problem,

  • the ones who want you to solve it &

  • those who think they have a solution.

Here are a few tips to ensure you are listening actively:

  1. Make eye contact with the person you are talking to. This shows you are attentive.

  2. Paraphrase their comments in your own words. This forces you to use your brain and process the information you are getting. It also shows that you are listening.

  3. Show empathy… Relate to their emotions. This shows that you care and encourages them to share details they might otherwise have missed.

  4. Ask questions where you need more clarity. This ensures you understand what they are saying.

Solving difficult problems takes more than a high IQ. You may be pretty smart, but if you really want to solve the problem you must start with Active Listening.

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