Problem Solving

The Secret to Conflict Resolution -- Stop Compromising

We hear the word “compromise” anytime we turn on the TV or read a newspaper article about how the U.S. Congress should fix our fiscal woes.  Talking heads and Joe Public alike beg for more compromise to fix the situation.  Is it possible that compromise is what is putting us in such a predicament?  Compromise is based on giving up something you want, thus it is based on “losing”.  As that term suggests, I give a little, you give a little, and we meet somewhere in the middle at an agreement.  While compromise sounds like the best way to get unstuck, it actually leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied, almost as if they gave up too much.

To truly resolve conflict we suggest another “C” word -- “Collaboration”.  To collaborate, two or more parties must brainstorm ideas to fix a problem.  The goal, in the end, is to walk away with a solution that is more likely to truly “fix” the situation over which the parties were at odds to begin with.  The process is really pretty easy.  First, the two parties must come to an agreement on a goal that they both want to achieve.  Once that goal is agreed on, they brainstorm ways to get them to their shared goal.  No giving up one’s beliefs or buying into the other guy’s beliefs, simply agreed upon strategies that can get both parties what they have agreed that they both want.  The task then is to choose one solution that both parties have already agreed will achieve the common goal.

Let’s look at an actual conflict that shows how this works.  There was a state in the Southern U.S. that was having violent clashes between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life groups.  The state’s governor knew he must do something before more violence led to somebody’s death.  He told his assistant that he wanted the leadership of both groups to meet with him so they could come to some sort of agreement to stop the violence.  His assistant, thinking the governor had lost his mind, questioned if getting these two groups together in the same room was wise, but the governor insisted.

When the meeting did occur, both sides were at each other’s throats from the moment they arrived in the meeting room.  The governor eventually created calm so that he could address the restless crowd.  What he told them was surprising even to is staff.  He said, “As you all know, we have a significant teen pregnancy problem in our state.  We rank 49th out of the 50 states in teen pregnancies and 50th in the number of teenaged abortions.  What I need from you is to help me solve this problem.  I need your ideas for cutting back the rate of teen pregnancy so that we can cut the number of abortions in the state.”  Both sides instantly changed their demeanor.  After all, the vast majority of abortions are performed on teenaged mothers.  If they could solve that problem, their debate would become moot.

For the next few weeks both sides met and came up with a strategy to lower the pregnancy rate of girls in their state.  They worked together, civilly to reach a common goal, and in the end, they lowered the teen aged pregnancy rate over 50% in their state.

How about you, how does this work in your world?  Can you find a common goal to work towards rather than trying to determine what you are willing to give up, and therefore feeling unsatisfied?  Stop compromising when you are at odds with your co-worker, spouse, or neighbor and find a way to create an action plan that gets you both to a mutual goal.  If only they understood this in Washington.

Don't Throw Them Under the Bus

This month’s “Best Boss” characteristics are being a problem solver and a team builder.  Best Bosses  often exemplify these characteristics in tandem, at a moment when lesser bosses solve problems at the expense of the team.  That moment is when poor performance has resulted in a problem and it just seems easier to throw the “guilty” under the bus.  Instead, effectively redirecting poor performance can single-handedly change the fortunes of an employee, team, or even the organization as a whole.  The best bosses use these redirection moments to not only take performance from bad to good, but build team morale. Let’s use a specific example to make sense of the skills that shape these characteristics.  Thomas is an engineer working with a team of other engineers on a project with the company’s most important client.  Thomas is tasked with providing specs for the design of a key portion of the project to the team, upper management, and the client.  During the presentation, the client becomes very upset when a fundamental error is discovered in the supply chain logistics.  The client leaves the meeting and tells the team lead, Sarah, that she has one week to fix the problem before they begin looking for a new engineering firm.  Sarah is taken back by the threat of losing the client and now has some very tough decisions to make.

The first thing she does is assemble the team and give them the latest details on the timeline and the mistakes made.  Sarah’s next step clearly identifies her as a “Best Boss.”  She says, “Look, at some point, we’ve all made a mistake that could impact the success of our team.  I don’t blame any individual for the supply chain issue, but I now ask that we all lean on one another to fix the problem, and in the end, we will flourish as a team.”

At this critical moment it would be very easy, and costly, for her to blame Thomas for the mistake.  After all, he is in charge of the supply chain.  To some bosses, he must be held accountable which in many cases means punishment.  Fortunately, Sarah does not jump to place blame, but instead rallies the troops to come together and fix it as a team.  From that moment on, the team will have increased morale and a sincere sense of being a part of a true team.

The next thing she does is facilitate a rigorous problem solving session where they:

  1. Identify the Problem
  2. Explore the Problem
  3. Set Objectives
  4. Create an Action Plan
  5. Measure and Correct

In the end, the team finds the cause of the error and fixes it to such an extent that the client thanks them for their attention to detail.  They remain their top client to this very day.  Thomas is now a team lead on a different team and claims that, without Sarah, he would never have reached such a level in the company.  He still calls her weekly for tips on managing his new team.