Is it your problem to solve?

Ellie Newman interviewed me for her radio show “That Got Me Thinking” on KDPI 88.5 FM out of Ketchum, Idaho. Listen to the interview on Ellie's website here.

The interview is on the topic of change, and how we solve problems to create change. Which is, of course, what I’m always thinking about. The fantastic thing about this interview is that Ellie immediately got my focus on both parenting and managing people, and how they’re the same thing for me. I know it’s a big leap for a lot of people to switch back and forth from the work space in their brain to the parenting space in their brain, but that’s where I live all the time—those two zones—and Ellie didn’t bat an eye at my assumptions that they’re the same thing. There’s also a lot in the interview about my process of solving Flash Consultations, and the types of questions I get.

Last week was the first week back for most of us, to work and to school, and I think it was both a relief and a confirmation that there are real problems for a lot of us. A relief because being out of the regular schedule is stressful. Kids get very very stressed out by the combination of being out of the regular routine and not necessarily knowing what to expect next, and seeing people they don’t usually see while not seeing the people that they see every day in school. If they don’t like school, it can be hard to process the relief of not being there, plus there’s the negative anticipation of going back. If they like school, they may genuinely miss it, and they might feel at a loss without those activities and those people.

Adults are the same way for the same reasons, and there’s another huge layer of cultural expectation that we’re not supposed to want to be at work. (Think of the Powerball frenzy of the last week. Half a billion dollars would utterly ruin your life if you won it out of the blue, but everyone’s so conditioned to think we’re supposed to not want to work that people stood in line for hours to buy tickets to misery. 4 8 15 16 23 42.) But being at home (or “at home” if you were running around a lot or visiting people) has its own kind of stress and dislocation.

So getting back to the regular routine can be a big relief, despite the initial shock of having to get up early and put on pants to go somewhere. But then by day 3 or 4 of the week, all the old problems that were chewing at you before the break popped up again. And you have to confront the fact that a) they actually exist, b) they didn’t magically go away on their own, and c) you’re going to have to do something about them.

Problems such as: your child getting in trouble at school or your boss assuming the worst of you (same problem), your child or your employee getting entrenched in roles and resisting doing something that’s good for everyone just because they don’t want to feel like they have to (again, same problem), chronic miscommunication (with kids or coworkers), gaps in process that means no one’s responsible for something crucial (at home or at work), and generally just being tired of having so many complications to deal with and just wanting to do your work (everywhere). In the worst-case scenario, you really just don’t want to be there anymore.

All of this stuff, though, is just a problem to be solved step by step. Or maybe a few interlocking problems that you have to tease apart. If solving the problem is your responsibility, then you must solve it. And you can solve it. Just look for the most variable part of the problem, and start looking at why that aspect of the problem varies and what that means, and how you can figure out the motivations of the other people involved to change things.

How do you know if the problem is your responsibility? If you are the parent in a parent/child problem scenario, then it’s your responsibility. If you are the manager in a manager/employee scenario, then it’s your responsibility. None of this, “They’re acting childish so I don't have to fix it” stuff. Step back out of your ego and look at the situation from a systems perspective and figure out where the block is and how to fix it in a way that lets everyone feel good about themselves and learn from the whole thing. That's heroism (as well as good parenting and good management).

If you’re the child in a parent/child scenario or the employee in a manager/employee scenario, then you probably can’t solve this problem, just because you don’t have the right access or authority to. So think about how honest you can be with the person who can solve it, and ask them to solve it for both of you. Or, if you can’t be that honest, figure out if there’s a way to sidestep the problem so that you can still get the things done that you need to do, and be as free of stress about it as possible.

If this “Whose problem is it to solve?” perspective is interesting to you, check out the books Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott and Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon. Both of these books are super-useful for managers, whether or not you’re a parent, and a lot of the concepts in them have informed my managing process, RISWS