As I watch what is going on politically across the nation, attend various business meetings and even participate in family discussions, I can’t help but notice how the rhetoric and emotion often increase, while the civility and human connection decrease. People become obstinate or angry. Some even resort to insults, and productive conversation flies out the window.
The reason, in my opinion, is that people focus on finding solutions without really defining the problem. That’s right, people argue and debate about how to resolve an issue before they truly understand just what that issue is and how it affects them.
I’m guilty myself. I see a problem. I assume other people see the problem exactly as I see it. I assume that they would define it as I would. I assume that we all understand what the criteria for a “good” solution will be. Then I jump head-first into a conversation where I try to “sell” my solution to the problem as I see it (wrongly assuming that everyone agrees with me).
If that sounds familiar, don’t beat yourself up too badly. After all, like me, you are likely trying to be proactive, take charge and resolve an issue before it balloons into a real problem. That said, the approach is problematic because you will never reach consensus on a solution if you don’t at least agree on what you are trying to solve.
What should you do? Stop discussing the solution until you and the other person or group can define the problem and agree to that definition. So before you dive into problem-solving, discuss the following questions first:
- Do we agree that there is a problem?
- What is the problem?
- What is the scope of the problem?
- Who is being or will be affected by the problem?
- What impact has the problem had so far?
- What is causing the problem?
- What would a good solution look like?
Once you reach agreement on those questions, you can work toward finding and agreeing on a solution. By taking time to understand the problem, you will resolve, reduce, or even eliminate many time- and energy-sucking conflicts and reach resolution sooner.
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