You Got a Problem For Me?

Photo of a business man thinking.I was originally going to title this blog post: How to Talk to your Traffic Engineer. But I actually want people to read beyond the headline. And that one just didn’t scream: KEEP READING!

In leadership development, we are taught to not solve other people’s problems for them. If a team member comes to you with a problem, don’t let them leave it on your desk as they make a hasty retreat for the door. Make sure they take it with them. In other words, don’t solve their problem for them – even if you know the best answer. If they come in with a problem and no solutions, send them out and tell them to come back when they have several solutions. Repeat as necessary.

Engineers, however, are a different breed. By definition, we are problem solvers. Give us a problem and we’re on it like angry on a wet cat. So it goes against our grain to not jump right in and solve other people’s problems.

As an aside: One of the most volatile combinations is the married male engineer whose spouse is not an engineer. It takes us years to learn that just because our wife is distressed about something, it doesn’t mean we are supposed to solve it in the next fifteen minutes (because the game starts in twenty). But that’s a post for another day.

Now if you have a traffic problem where you live, I’m going to let you in on the secret about how to talk to your traffic engineer. Come to him or her with a problem, but (and this is important) NOT a solution (even if you have one or five). If you come to an engineer with a solution his natural instinct is to resist. He can’t help it. It’s engrained.

But come to him with a PROBLEM and you’ll have him eating out of your hand in no time flat. Let me illustrate:

Resident: You have to put in a traffic signal at the end of my driveway so I can get out in the morning without getting killed by the NASCAR wannabes that tear through my neighborhood.

This is not a good approach. All hyperbole aside, you are setting yourself up for being put way down on the priority list. Probably right after the monorail request from your neighbor three doors down. Try this approach instead:

Resident: I’m concerned about the speed of vehicles on my street. It sure seems like they are excessive, but I don’t know for sure since I don’t have a radar gun. Do you have any solutions for slowing them down?

This is a much better approach. You think there is a problem but would like it checked out. This will get a much better response from the engineer. Something like: Aha! A possible problem! I will investigate and see what we can do! Note the implied “Here I come to save the day!” in there.

Now you are more likely to see some action. Maybe not that afternoon, but certainly well before the monorail request.