Seek solutions, without placing blame — amazing how much time is wasted not dealing with issues. Rather than freeze up with blaming, do something!
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Here’s a semi-funny instance from my past, with a couple doing the opposite of this “rule.”
The two were also business partners. One session, she complained that one of their clients acted surly and arrogant when she met with him. She told me at great length about how he “hates women” and “puts them down.” She then said that her husband had a great relationship with the guy.
I said, “So, if your husband gets along with this guy, and you are making yourself angry over the client, why don’t you give the 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 difficult clients, if you weren’t married to your business partner?”
They both said that this would be exactly what they’d do. If they weren’t married, of course.
I said, “Isn’t it funny that each of you can solve problems at work, but when it comes to issues involving 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 kind of stuff all the time. Your suggestion simply resolves the issue.”
Parenthetically, this was the point when other couples turned to each other and said, (with grins on their faces,) “Rats! Now we’ll have to come up with something else to fight about!”
You might wonder what’s up here.
Many are the folk who are incredibly successful at work, yet who treat personal issues — and their partners — in ways that, at work, would get them fired. And they swear they are doing it for “love.”
Well, spare me from love, if it requires that I verbally beat up on Darbella, while continually proving her wrong.
Here’s a breakdown of the pattern:
- There’s an issue between two people.
- With every issue, there are three options:
- One is to live with the issue by accepting things as they are (No whining.)
- Another option is to solve the issue.
- The third option is to find someone to blame.
You wouldn’t think that the third option would be all that popular.
Yet, I often heard, “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 questioned how that would resolve the issue, the person with this “brilliant” suggestion would look at me quizzically, and say, “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 falls apart is on the practical level.
Marriage, relationships — and indeed any kind of interpersonal struggle — are the same as any business transaction, or series of transactions.
A successful transaction looks like this: I walk into a store, 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 my change. I smile, pick up my paper, and leave.
Successful transactions are also simple, and mostly “impersonal.”
In the same way, every relationship issue is “supposed to” be successfully resolved. Difficulties, however, can arise over 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 for her viewpoint, not for resolution. She wanted her husband to agree that the customer was being a jerk, treating her badly, and then to go in and “straighten him out.” He was caught in, “The guy is our best customer. Just suck it up.”
For both, the issue became personal, as opposed to something to be resolved.
I suggested that they treat the issue as a business issue… that they stop using the situation to play the “If you loved me you’d…” game. I asked them to ask a simple, practical question: “What’s the easiest, most efficient way to drop the drama, and keep this account?”
Here’s a more general way of looking at this: in every situation and relationship, there has to be a goal. There are two broad categories of goals: one is very “Zen,” and the other is “ordinary.”
- The Zen-ish goal is to have a deep, meaningful and honest relationship, and to resolve issues using 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 declared the wise and all knowing one who is going to straighten the other person out.
If you apply the ordinary principles to business issues, you can immediately see that the ordinary approach will cause your business to screech to a halt due to finger-pointing.
Thus, a fight centered around “You don’t appreciate all I do around here,” which is 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. Afterwards, let’s sit down and look at effective solutions.” will head in another direction.
Some decades ago I was hired to work with a department of a major Canadian retailer. Unlike many of my corporate clients, the department head actually wanted his people to think for themselves and to make their jobs fun, while at the same time taking complete responsibility for their “areas.”
He was able to “let go” of being the boss, and his “troops” rose to the occasion — the department became the most successful in the company.
The reason the new way of doing things worked was that there was never, ever, any finger pointing and blaming. There were monthly sessions of “what works, what doesn’t,” and when I wasn’t around, endless dialogue and sharing of techniques that “worked.”
Word 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 after this happened, I got called in to facilitate a meeting between the old and the brand new Vice Presidents, to help with the transition.
The meeting was supposed to last 5 hours. It went 9.
The tension in the room was palatable. When I asked for introductions, I got them, then piles of 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 I never proposed a framework for what they did want.
No matter what I did, they kept returning to the finger pointing. We spent 9 hours in complaint and blaming mode, only emerging from the mess a couple of minutes at a time. The meeting was a disaster.
That was a long example of how blaming can screw up a business.
In all cases, business and personal, there needs to be an agreement that we are seeking a solution, as opposed to placing blame. And then, all of the dialogue must be directed to problem solving and solution building. If the conversation keeps slipping back to blaming and trying to embarrass the other person, there will 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? Are you trying to make the other person responsible for your life, your feelings?
If so, knock it off, just for a week. Accept responsibility for who you are and where you are, including where you are stuck. Cut your partner some slack, and invite 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!