Wayne C. Allen's "Works in Progress"
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Universal Rules: If there is an issue to be resolved, or a problem to be solved, seek a solution, without placing blame.

fingerTell me what you really think...

I just had a semi-funny instance of this rule, as it was applied in its opposite. I'm working with a couple who are also business partners. The wife was complaining that one of their larger accounts is surly and arrogant when she goes to him with papers to be signed or projects to be agreed upon. She went on at length about how he "hates women" and "puts them down," and how her husband had a great relationship with the guy. He was also guilty of the "sin" of not standing up for her and defending her against the arrogant wretch.

I said, "So, if your husband gets along with this guy and you are making yourself angry over him and calling him names in your head, why don't you give that client to your husband and let him manage the account?"

There was stunned silence. I continued, "Isn't that what you guys would do with clients, if you weren't married to your business partner?" The both agreed that this is exactly what they'd do.

I said, "Isn't it funny that you can solve problems individually at work, and individually with others, and when it comes to the two of you, who's "right" always seems to take precedence over actually resolving the issue?"

He shook his head, "Not so funny. We fight about this stuff all the time, and your suggestion simply resolves the issue."

At this point, I've had other couples turn to each other and state, with grins on their faces, "Rats! Now we'll have to come up with something else to fight about!"

Almost all of the people I see are middle class and work for a living. Most are middle management and above. All are highly intelligent and eminently employable. And most treat personal issues, and their partners, in a way that, at work, would get them fired or bankrupt their business. All in the name of "love."

Well, spare me from love, if it requires beating up on Dar verbally, and continually proving her wrong.

What happens is this: there's an issue between two people. There are now three options. One is to live with the issue and accept it. Another is to solve the issue. The third is to look for who is to blame.

You wouldn't think that the third option would be all that popular. Yet, I often hear, "We have this issue and if only he would admit that it's all his fault and promise me that he will mend his ways, everything would be fine." When I question how that will resolve the issue, the person with this "brilliant" suggestion looks at me quizzically, and says, "You just don't get it. I've been trying to get him to accept responsibility for this for years!"

Now, on the surface, this obviously makes sense. Here's the problem, here's the one thing we've been doing, over and over, that has never worked, and here's "him," not taking responsibility for the failure. Where this fails is on the practical level.

Marriage, relationships and indeed any kind of interpersonal struggle are no different from any business transaction, or series of transactions. A successful transaction is this: I walk into "Ralph's Variety" store across the street, pick up a Toronto Star and walk up to the counter. After a couple of pro forma pleasantries typically including "Will that be all?" I hand the clerk a five dollar bill and she hands me two "Toonies," (Canadians have two-dollar coins. Our one-dollar coin is nicknamed a Loonie because the original coin had a loon on the back. The two-dollar coin is thus a Toonie.) and I smile, pick up my paper and leave.

I would like to suggest to you that every relationship issue is "supposed to" end successfully. Where the problem lies is in our definition of success. If we go back to the first example, with the misogynist customer, it is clear that the wife was looking for support. She wanted her husband to agree that the customer was being a jerk, treating her badly, and to go in and "straighten him out." He was caught in, "The guy is a friend of mine. Just suck it up."

What I suggested to them was that they treat the issue as a business issue. In other words, that they step out of using the situation to play the "if you loved me you'd…" game. The practical question is, "What's the easiest, most efficient way to keep this account?"

In a more general way of looking at this, let me try it this way: in every situation and relationship, there has to be a goal. There are two broad categories of goals, on that is very "Phoenix," and the other, which is "ordinary" and keeps me in business. J The Phoenix goal is to have a deep, meaningful and honest relationship based upon elegant solutions. The ordinary goal is to make everything about proving the other person wrong, getting the other person to accept responsibility for what you are feeling, or being the wise and all knowing one who is going to straighten the other person out.

If you apply those principles to business, you can immediately see that if you are living in the ordinary world, that approach will cause your business to screech to a halt due to finger-pointing.

So, you'll begin to see that a fight centered around, "You don't appreciate all I do around here," met with "You don't acknowledge how hard I work," will get nowhere. On the other hand, "I'm really stressing myself out right now, and need a break. I'd like to go to the theatre and shopping this weekend. Would you like to join me?" will head in another direction.

On the third hand, there's nothing wrong with feeling whiny. The first line becomes, "I'm feeling whiny and unappreciated today, and making myself miserable. Would you please give me a hug, and in your most sincere voice, say, 'You poor thing'?" The wise partner would grin, provide the hug and the words. Issue over, and such behaviour often leads to quite fun and interesting "romps."

One of my good friends used to run the Loss Prevention department for a major Canadian retailer. He hired me to shake up his department, and I did. Unlike a lot of my corporate clients, he actually wanted his people to think for themselves and make their jobs fun, while taking complete responsibility for their "areas." Because he was able to "let go" of being the boss, his "troops" rose to the occasion. The department became the most successful in the company.

The reason it worked was that there was never, ever, any finger pointing and blaming, both behaviours being what we, at The Phoenix Centre, think of as the height of infantile. There were monthly sessions of "what works, what doesn't," and when I wasn't around, endless dialogue and sharing of techniques that "worked." The department goal was "successful loss prevention measured in dollars saved."

Work of our work spread, and he and I were invited into other departments, and we began to achieve similar results. Then, the parent company, (which has since gone bankrupt) replaced the top management with people from another chain. Right before I first went to Haven, I got called in to facilitate a meeting with the Vice Presidents, and my buddy. It was supposed to last 5 hours. It went 9.

The tension in the room was palatable. When I asked for introductions, I got them, plus complaints and blaming. I suggested we spend the first hour getting the anger and blaming off their chests. Tactically, that was a mistake on my part, as there was no framework for what they did want. No matter what I did, we kept returning to the finger pointing. We spent 9 hours in complaint and blaming mode, only emerging for a couple of minutes. The meeting was a disaster, and my buddy resigned.

That was a long example of what works and what doesn't, from a business perspective. There needs to be an agreement that we are seeking a solution, not to place blame. And then, all of the dialogue must be directed to problem solving and solution building. If the conversation keeps slipping beck to blaming and trying to embarrass the other person, there can never be a solution.

This week, listen to how you talk to the people in your life. Are you blaming? Are you acting all-knowing and superior? Arrogant? Are you trying to make the other person responsible for your life, your feelings? If so, knock it off, for a week. Accept responsibility for who you are and where you are, including where you are stuck. Cut your partner some slack, and incite him/her into dialogue about what you want out of the relationship or situation. Then, problem-solve toward solution, never toward blame.

See what happens.

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