When You’re the Problem

By Pamela A. Scott

Today’s meeting with a client yielded some interesting results.

Joseph manages a staff of 35 or so. He’s built up his department from scratch. He’s a go-getter and problem solver. That’s where the problem comes in.

Joseph is able to see problems and a way to fix them immediately, in any given situation, and regardless of whether anyone else thinks there’s a problem. He recently was on a Scout trip where the boys were fixing up homes in a very poor neighborhood.

In Joseph’s mind, they were there to fix ALL the problems—and he could see plenty. There were broken windows to replace, gutters that had fallen down, doors that didn’t close, and lots that needed to be painted.

Four other adults had come on the trip to help out and chaperone the boys, plus the Scoutmaster was there. Technically, it was the Scoutmaster’s show. Joseph, like the other four adults, was there as manual labor.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

Joseph got frustrated because the other adults, including the leader, didn’t seem as driven as he was. He saw all the problems, and he knew they were going to be hard-pressed to fix all the problems.

The others, though, took a more laid-back approach. They took breaks. They chatted about sports. They weren’t as intense as Joseph was about the project.

As we talked about this situation, Joseph became aware that his intensity and his drive to fix all the problems was his issue. He realized his frustration was that the others didn’t see the situation the way he did.

That happens frequently for natural problem-solvers. They see a problem and a way to fix it and off they go. The potential conflict comes when others don’t see the situation the same way and they are offended by Joseph’s abrupt, directorial style.

THE CLOUDS BEGIN TO PART

“It probably would have helped if I had talked with the others about what we expected to accomplish on this trip,” he said. “They would have understood where I was coming from, and I would have understood their thinking.”

Joseph is a smart man.

To help him catch himself before he jumps in to solve others’ problems, he is going to listen to what he says. He particularly is going to listen for himself saying “the problem is . . .”

When he says that, he has to sit back and take a deep breath. He then will check with others to see if they think there even is a problem. He will also gauge their interest in correcting the situation.

Instead of forcing his solution on others, he is going to respect them and get their opinion. If he still thinks there’s a problem he needs to fix, he will ask something like “would anyone object if I worked on this situation so it moves better.” He will ask permission to save the world.

Joseph’s style and behavior isn’t going to change overnight. But at least he is making intellectual progress in understanding himself and how he comes across to others.


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