The question of what you should discuss may be the most important concept we cover in this book. When problems come in complicated bundles, and they often do, it s not always easy to know which problem or problems to address.
For example, a teenage
She broke a promise. She violated her father s trust. She drove her father insane with fear that she had been
Although it s true that the daughter walked in the door 60 minutes after curfew, this may not be the exact and only problem her father wants to discuss. Here s the added danger: If he selects the wrong problem from this lengthy list of possible problems and handles it well, he may be left with the
To get a feel for how to choose the right problem, let s look at an actual case we recently uncovered during a training session for school principals. It s from a grade school principal s experience. During recess a teacher notices the following interaction. Two second-grade
The principal calls the children s parents, describes what took place, and explains that the school will be disciplining them. Maria s parents are fine with the idea and thank the principal, and that s the end of the discussion. Sarah s mother takes a different approach. She asks, Exactly what form of discipline will each child receive? The principal explains that the discipline will suit the nature of the offense.
There are several problems in this scenario. When the principals in the training session hear about the incident, many become emotional. That s an easy one to figure out, some suggest. You
As the principals
Finally, one of the assistant principals
Once this important issue is highlighted as the main problem, a discussion can be held to resolve it and the principal can get what it is he or she really wants: a working partnership with the parent that will help benefit the child. Solutions to any of the other problems would not have accomplished this, and the frustration would have remained.
So take note: If the solution you re applying doesn t get you the results you really want, it s likely you re dealing with the wrong problem entirely.
Before we deal with the
Have you talked to her? you ask.
And then what happens? you continue.
She s on time for a few days, maybe even a week, and then she starts coming in late again.
Then what do you say to her?
I tell her that she s late and that I don t like it.
When people repeatedly make the same mistake, those who are the best at identifying and then
In summary, if you find yourself having the same problem-solving discussion over and over again, it s likely there s another, more important problem you need to address.
As you continue your conversation with the realtor, you say, Obviously, the fact that your clerk comes in late is the behavior that catches your attention, and that s what you talk to her about. But what is the real problem here?
I m not exactly sure. I do know that it s starting to bug me a lot ”more than it probably should.
Are you becoming more upset because the problem s escalating?
Not really, the broker responds hesitantly.
Finally, you ask: When you re
A light goes on in the broker s eyes as he excitedly states, It s killing me that she s taking advantage of our relationship. She s my neighbor, she s helped me out a lot, and now she doesn t do what I ask because she
That s the problem the broker needs to confront. He s becoming increasingly upset with each infraction because he s never dealt with the issue that is bothering him. Being late is the frozen tip floating above the chilly waters. Taking advantage of a friendship is the iceberg itself.
As you can see from these examples, learning how to get at the gist of an infraction requires time and practice. Feeling pressured by time constraints and hyped up by emotions, most people
Along a similar vein, most parents who pace the floor nervously as a teenage daughter breaks curfew can t see beyond the hands of the clock when in truth what really has them
The ability to reduce an infraction to its bare essence takes patience, a sense of proportion, and precision. First, you have to take the time to unbundle the problem. People are often in too much of a hurry to do this. Their emotions propel them to move quickly, and speed rarely leads to careful thought. Second, while sorting through the issues you have to decide what is bothering you the most. If you don t, you ll end up going after either the wrong target or too many targets. Third, you have to be
You have to
Let s say that despite your best efforts you keep returning to the same problem. Your emotions are getting
This acronym can help define a problem as well as eliminate Groundhog Day. The first time a problem comes up, talk about the
ontent, what just
The next time the problem occurs, talk
attern, what has been happening over time: This is the second time this has occurred. You agreed it wouldn t happen again, and I m concerned that I can t count on you to keep a promise. Pattern issues
Warning: It s easy to miss the pattern and get sucked into debating content. For instance, your boss repeatedly leaves your agenda items to the end of the meeting ”meaning that they typically get abbreviated or dropped altogether. You ve spoken with her about it before. This time when you bring it up, she explains how full the agenda was and how you need to be more flexible about urgent issues. If you give in to that explanation, you ve missed the point. Your concern is not today s meeting (the content issue), it s the long-standing pattern. Sometimes the pattern sneaks up on you and a new issue arises. You point out the problem, and the other person begins to either rant or pout, something that s starting to happen a lot in your conversations with him or her. It s becoming a pattern. Influential people notice this pattern of behavior and find ways to address it before moving back to the original topic.
As the problem continues, talk about
elationship, what s happening to
. Relationship concerns are far bigger than either the content or the pattern. The issue is
that other people have disappointed you repeatedly; it s that the string of disappointments has caused you to lose trust in them: You doubt their competency, you don t respect or trust their promises, and this is
If your real concern is around the
and you discuss only the pattern of behavior, you re likely to find yourself feeling dissatisfied with the outcome. Even worse, you re likely to experience Groundhog Day: You ll have the same conversation again later. To understand the various kinds of content, pattern, and relationship issues that routinely pop up during crucial
Problems are almost never contained in the behavior of the offender. They re much more likely to be contained in what happens afterward . The problem lies in the consequences. For example, a staff specialist who works for you is supposed to complete a financial analysis by noon. She miscalculates how long it will take and delivers the job to you three hours late.
When you want to clarify the issue you need to confront, stop and ask yourself, What are the consequences of this problem to me? To our relationship? To the task? To other stakeholders? Analyzing the consequences helps you determine what is most important to discuss.
Let s move the analysis in another direction. A fellow you work with is
Let s be clear about this. You ve drawn this conclusion not as a thoughtless
The good news is that we address intentions all the time. Consider the father who was upset with his daughter for coming in late because she was punishing him for having grounded her. It wasn t the fact that she had been late that made him upset ”at least not totally ”it was her perceived
Whether the father and the realtor are correct in their assessments will
As you begin to unravel a bundle of problems ”examining the precipitating intentions and the consequences ”the list of component
The best tool for choosing from the host of possible problems is to ask what you really want and don t want. And since you re talking to another person, you ought to ask what you want for yourself , for the other person , and for the relationship . If you don t think about all three of these essential aspects, one may take a backseat and you won t solve your most important problem.
Consider the case of the two second-grade girls. Most people struggle with what to say to Sarah s mother until someone asks: What do you want to have happen with Sarah? What don t you want to have happen? You do want Sarah to be disciplined. You don t want to start a battle with her mother and make choices that limit Sarah s educational options. You don t want to send her to a new school just to show her mother who s in charge.
As far as you yourself are concerned, you want to be able to hold Sarah accountable. Public policy demands that you take action, and even if you could look the other way, you d be giving tacit approval to a nasty behavior. You don t want that. When it comes to the relationship, you want to be able to collaborate with Sarah s mother to come up with the proper type of discipline. You don t want the daughter to receive mixed messages. So what do you say? What is the problem you want to discuss? I m afraid we re sending Sarah the wrong message when we argue over the form the discipline should take.
To decide what to confront:
Think CPR ”Content, Pattern, and Relationship.
Expand the list of possible issues by considering consequences and intent.
Choose from the list by asking what you do and don t want: for yourself, others, and the relationship.
Let s apply these concepts to a real case. Your two preteen kids were invited to go to a drive-in movie with their friends who live down the street. You gave them permission to stay up late and you popped popcorn, and your children are now so excited that they can hardly see straight. Then the parents who will be taking the kids to the movie drive up to your house in their pickup truck. Their two children are seated in the back, and your
You start to raise your safety concerns, and your neighbor calls you a fussbudget and a worrywart. Before you can respond, your spouse cuts you off and
You re furious. What do you say to your spouse? Your first inclination is to talk about the danger. But that ship has sailed, well,
As you think about it, you ask yourself what you want and don t want. You want the kids to be safe ”that s a given ”but once again, you ll talk about that issue as a
You decide to talk about making critical commitments (