People or Problems – Part 2

After reflecting on my last post I think I made a mistake.  I made the mistake of thinking a complex subject could be discussed in just a few lines of text.  In this post I will attempt to clarify some things.  So, if you haven’t read the first posting on “People or Problems” you will want to take a minute and read that first, and then come back.

First a few clarifications:

  1. When I say focus on the ‘problem’ not on the ‘people’, I’m not saying people are not important, or to be ignored.  I’m suggesting that when a problem does occur, if you focus your energy, emotions, anger, etc.. on people and not on the problem you will not get to a resolution, and will, in fact, find it hard to reconcile the parties involved.
  2. One thing I didn’t mention in Part 1, which is really the key to understanding this subject, and that is – EMOTIONS.  When you focus your attention on the people, emotions are bound to get in the way of solving the problem.  However, if you divert the attention away from people, and focus instead on the problem at hand then at least some of the emotional content associated with the problem goes away, or at least is kept within certain boundaries.
  3. We tend to want to focus on the people, because that is where our emotions want to take us – “Why did you do this?”, “What were you thinking when you did this?”, “How many times did I tell you not to do this?”, “Do you know how much trouble your actions have caused?”, etc, etc, etc….  While it is satisfying to get our frustration and anger vented, it does little to solve the problem, as the focus is on the failure of people, and not on the problem itself.  So, it would better if instead of the above, it would be focused differently – “What do ‘we’ need to do to get this resolved?”, “How can we do this better going forward?”, “How can I help to make sure we don’t run into this same issue going forward?”, “Are there things you need that would help this situation?”.  The focus in the latter is not focused on the people, but on the problem.  By doing this you can defuse some of the emotions involved in every problem.
  4. It is important to engage the people who are involved in the problem in the resolution.  If you reread the quotes in #3 you will see a difference between the top quotes, which focus on people, and on the bottom quotes, which focus on the problem.  In the top quotes there is use of ‘you’ or ‘your’ making in very personal, while in the bottom quotes the focus is on ‘we’ which implies we are all in this together, and we are not trying to single out anyone.
  5. Problems occur in life through a variety of avenues:
    1. Oversight – I just didn’t think this would happen
    2. Misjudgment – I had no idea it would mushroom to this size
    3. Lack of information – I made a judgment call, but I didn’t have enough information or knowledge.
    4. Miscommunication – I told so and so to take care of this, but they misunderstood
    5. Carelessness – I thought a half-hearted effort was sufficient, but I was wrong.
    6. Accidents – these happen because we are human, and not perfect
    7. Reliance on the wrong people – I thought so and so was up to the task, but I was wrong.
    8. Misinformation – the information I had been given was incorrect.  This led me to a wrong conclusion.
    9. Insufficient training – I was asked to do a job I was not qualified for.

All that said, hopefully it will give fuller meaning to the concept of ‘focus on the problem, not on the people.’  The core idea in this is to defuse the emotions that are attached to most problems.  Emotions distract us from the real core items.  99% percent of the time no one involved in the problem wanted the problem to happen in the first place, and would be glad to find a solution, or way to ensure it never happens again.

One final note – I write this as if I was an expert on the subject.  Actually, the opposite is true.  I only know a little about this topic only because I have made every mistake that can be made in dealing with people.  I have seen what works, and what doesn’t work.  I have witnessed other folks dealing with the same issues, and observed what works for them, and what doesn’t.  So, I’m only an expert because I have failed more than most.

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