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There Are Only Two Types of Problems
If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you have got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.
The first step to solving your problem is to decide whether the problem is about money or people. There really are only two different kinds of problems: money problems and people problems. That doesn't sound right to you, does it? It's got to be more complicated than that, you say.
I still remember where I was when I first heard that there are only two kinds of problems. I was living in Bakersfield, California, and somebody suggested that I try attending the Church of Religious Science. When they told me that it wasn't a Christian church I was skeptical. I was raised Church of England (Anglican in the United States), and my first wife was raised Lutheran. Both believe in a strict agenda in church services and sermons taught straight out of the Bible. A church that taught that there are many paths to God and that powerful thinking could change circumstances seemed more like a motivational rally than a religion.
Sitting in this strange environment with my family I was frankly suspicious and looking for reasons to rule Religious Science out of our lives. When the preacher told that us he was going to talk to us about problem solving, it was definitely not the kind of topic that I'd heard from my vicar back home. Then he made the statement that there are only two types of problems—people problems and money problems—and I was convinced that it was sheer baloney. But that was more than 30 years ago and I've never found an exception to that rule.
Don't confuse people problems with money problems
Believe me when I tell you that you'll never find a problem or opportunity that can't be separated this way. Money problems or people problems—there are only two kinds. Or possibly solving the problem will take both money, and people handling skills. People have difficulty solving problems when they confuse the two:
"I own a chain of 60 two hamburger stands in New Jersey. I started it right out of high school with a thousand bucks I borrowed from my uncle. I built this business with sweat and tears. For three years I worked 18 hours a day seven days a week until I could afford to hire some help. My problem is with that first employee. He's now my executive vice-president. I made this guy. I took him off the street, and now he lives in a mansion and drives a Mercedes. Yesterday, he's got the gall to tell me that he's quitting me and going to work for the competition. How could he do this to me, after all I've done for him? I asked him if he'd stay for more money. He says sure, but he wants fifty thousand more a year! That's blackmail!"
This is an example of a person who really has a money problem, not a people problem. If he could only see this clearly, he'd calm down, and know how to negotiate a solution to the problem. He should be calmly thinking, "Okay, so I can solve this problem for $50,000 a year. But, I know I can do better than that. Fifty thousand is unreasonable and he knows it, so he must be upset about something else. We'll talk, I'll butter him up, and we'll work it out. It's probably not going to cost me anymore than $10K and a new car."
Here's a problem that I hear all the time:
"My 25-year-old son is driving me insane. I love him, but I can't stand him living at the house anymore. He's driving me crazy with his late-night carousing. I've tried laying down ground rules, but nothing seems to work. I ought to throw him out of the house and let him make his own way in the world. It would probably do him a world of good. But I hate to break the ties completely. He's my only son, and I might never see him again."
This mother thinks she has a people problem when she really has a money problem. If I asked her how the son would feel if she gave him $800 a month to rent his own apartment, she'd tell me: "Well, that would solve everything, but we don't have the $800 a month to give him." That may be so, but when I point this out to her, she'll see for the first time that it isn't a people problem she's facing; it's a money problem.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "How shallow can one person be? It's not right to think that money can solve problems involving other people. I don't want to go through my life buying people off!" I totally agree with you on that! But if we're going to be great problem solvers we start by analyzing the situation accurately. Don't confuse people problems with money problems!
* Key points from this chapter:
* There are only two kinds of problems: people problems and money problems.
* People often confuse the two. They think they have a people problem when they really have only a money problem.
* Even if it would take a ridiculous amount of money to solve the problem, you have a money problem, not a people problem.CHAPTER 2
Solving People Problems
If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.
Now that we know that there are only two types of problems—money problems and people problems—let's take a look at people problems, which are, without a doubt, the more difficult of the two.
Much of what I'm going to teach you here comes from my years of studying hostage situations, which must be the most difficult of all people problems to solve.
Rule one: Don't try to sweep people problems under the rug.
If you've got someone who is mad at you, you might want to back off for 48 hours to see if the problem goes away. Maybe he just lost his temper and now regrets it. Perhaps what he had to say in the heat of the argument now doesn't seem so important and certainly not something over which to jeopardize your relationship.
Learn not to shoot from the hip when someone upsets you. I can't tell you how many times I've stopped myself from an angry response that would have exacerbated the problem. Let the old earth take a couple of whirls, as Frank Sinatra advises in the classic "September Song." Former President Clinton learned that well. As a governor he would get himself into trouble with flip responses like "I never inhaled." As President, and now international ambassador, you can almost hear him counting to 10 with his right thumb extended, before he responds.
But if the other person is still angry with you after 48 hours you need to talk about the problem, not ignore it.
If you've got a boss who is giving you the cold shoulder you need to ask for face-to-face time to discuss the problem. Perhaps he misunderstood your point of view. Maybe another employee has unfairly poisoned your relationship with your boss using unfair accusations.
Perhaps your problem is a parent or child who is being sullen with you over some imagined slight. Don't let it go past 48 hours without addressing the problem.
Rule two: Verify that there really is a problem.
Be careful that you're not overreacting to a situation. The last thing you need is to get a reputation for being so sensitive that people have to watch out for every word they say when they're around you.
If the problem is with your boss you might say to his or her assistant, "Is the boss upset with me? He didn't even speak to me when he came through my department this morning." The response may well be, "Oh no, everything's fine. He's just preoccupied with a hassle he's having with head office."
If the problem is with a child, you might say to her brother or sister "What's bothering your brother these days?"
If you're worried about your parent's reaction to a situation, try, "Mom, what's Dad so upset about these days? He hasn't yelled at me all week!"
Rule three: Keep communications open at all cost.
This is something that I learned from studying hostage negotiations. You have to establish and maintain communications at all cost. Unless you are able to talk to the person the situation is going to get worse.
In a hostage situation the first thing that the negotiators will want to do is establish communications. Figure out a way to get talking with the perpetrators. Don't worry at this stage about how outrageous their demands might be. Get them talking and keep the lines of communication open.
On the opening day of school in Beslan, Russia, a small town between the Caspian and Black Seas, terrorists stormed the facility and took 1,100 parents and children hostage. The authorities correctly isolated the school and attempted to communicate with the perpetrators. "What do you want?" they asked them. "Are you demanding the release of prisoners in Chechen? Do you want money? What is it you want?"
Their reply was, "We don't want anything! We came here to die!" Let me tell you something. That is not a good start to resolving people problems! Unless you can get the other person talking to you, you have little chance of resolving the problem to both sides' satisfaction.
The other thing that went wrong with the Russian school hostage taking was that President Putin took a very strong line. He wanted the negotiations to go no more than three days before he would attack the compound.
There is a thing called acceptance time in a negotiation. It takes time for people to realize that they are not going to accomplish what they want out of the situation. The school hijacking was a situation that demanded a lot of acceptance time. Waiting it out may have taken a few months but it was preferable to what happened when the authorities attacked, costing the lives of 334 people and injuring hundreds.
Rule four: In an impasse create momentum with small concessions.
When neither side sees any possibility of resolving the problem, we call that an impasse in conflict resolution. It's important not to confuse an impasse with a deadlock, which is far more serious.
An impasse is when both sides are so far apart on the major issue that they see no possibility of a peaceful resolution. The way to handle an impasse is to create momentum by reaching agreement on little issues first. It may be that you both agree to keep the issue confidential while you're trying to resolve the problem.
As you create momentum by reaching agreement on little issues, it's important not to narrow the remaining issues too far. If you resolve all the minor issues and are left with only one major issue, there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser.
This is what went wrong when the Iraqis tried to write a constitution for their country. Their first constitution that established a monarchy was created in 1925 under the British occupation. When Iraq became a republic in 1958 they attempted to revise their constitution many times but could not reach agreement. With Saddam's Hussein's dictatorship it all became moot. In 2006, after the U.S. invasion, the new parliament created an Iraqi Constitution Drafting Committee and gave them six months to write a new constitution.
At the end of that time they requested a one-week extension because they still had three issues left to resolve. That sounded encouraging until we asked them to describe the three issues. They were: 1.) Should it be a regional or federal government? 2.) Should it be a secular or religious government? and 3.) Who would get the oil money? Those are three big issues to resolve in a week, but they hobbled together a solution, and submitted it to parliament who reluctantly approved it and then it went to a public vote.
It passed with a small majority (remember the purple thumbs?) and became the law of the land, although nobody seemed happy with the solution and there has been constant wrangling over it ever since.
If you're in mediation and you narrow down the issues that way, there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. Keep enough issues open so you can trade off one against another, and you can create a win-win solution where everyone feels that they've won.
Rule five: If you reach a deadlock, bring in a third party.
Here's my definition of a deadlock: Neither side sees any point in talking to each other.
If your personal problem has advanced to that stage, there is only one way to resolve it, and that is to bring in a third party as a mediator or an arbitrator.
There's a big difference between the two. A mediator doesn't have a lot of power. He or she is there to facilitate a solution. An arbitrator has a lot of power. With binding arbitration there will be a winner and there will be a loser. At the end of binding arbitration the arbitrator will decide who is at fault and what the penalty should be.
The key issue with both mediators and arbitrators is that they must be perceived as neutral by both sides. They cannot be effective unless they are perceived as neutral by both sides.
If you are dealing with a people problem it is unlikely that you'll choose arbitration. That's more applicable for money problems. You'll want to go with mediation.
You could hire a professional mediator, but a trusted psychotherapist would work also. Be sure that the person has mediation experience and knows how to mediate. Not all of them do.
There are many advantages to mediation. Here are the key ones:
* If you're not talking to the other person a mediator can get the parties to agree to another meeting. That's hard for the participants to do unless the other side is willing to change their position.
* They can be far more persuasive in dealing with the other person if they are perceived as neutral. You lose 80 percent of your ability to persuade people if they think you have something to gain from the attempt.
* Mediators can float trial balloons in an attempt to find acceptable solutions. The mediator can go to each side separately and suggest, "What if I could get them to agree to do this ...?" If you were to approach the other side directly they may see it as a weakening of your position and a chance to increase their demands.
Rule six: Don't expect too much from the resolution to a problem.
If your people problem is that you haven't spoken to the other person for years be careful that you're not fantasizing about how great life will be once you're talking to each other again.
I once knew a woman who hadn't spoken to her son for 15 years and was torn apart by grief over the situation. She had no idea where her son was or what he had been doing since they last saw each other when he was 5 years old.
I went to extraordinary lengths to locate the son and get them together again, assuming that it would be the most wonderful thing that I could do for them. They stayed together for a year or two but then drifted apart again. The problems that had caused the rift were still there.
Your person problem may be tearing you apart but solving it is not going to solve all the problems in your life. Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
Having said that, if you've got someone in your life at whom you're hopping mad at, contacting him or her will be a very therapeutic thing for you to do.
I remember trying to persuade a young lady to do this. She had a father in Oregon whom she hadn't seen for many, many years. She held inside her an incredible amount of bitterness toward him, with very good reason. When she told me the things he'd done, I thought of the line in the song "How Can People Be So Heartless?" He was clearly a total jerk. I encouraged her to go to Oregon to meet him—not to forgive him or make friends with him but merely to make contact and complete the gap in this relationship, a gap that was affecting her enjoyment of the present moment so much.
Excerpted from Secrets of Power Problem Solving by Roger Dawson, Kathryn Henches. Copyright © 2011 Roger Dawson. Excerpted by permission of Career Press.
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