Know the Person, Then Solve the Problem

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We rush headlong into problem solving out of a felt sense of urgency. It may be a conscientiousness that distinguishes our work ethic and service orientation. And if others – their actions, attitudes, or inaction – come between us and getting the problem solved, we can feel frustrated. Purposive strivings make us intense, our reputation is at stake. We’ve made promises and we want to keep them.

Our communications with others who slow, impede, or block our path of action may at first contain a tone of patience. But our intent to influence, guide, or direct action according to our purpose and priorities will be recognized. So, others respond with explanations, why they’re able or unable to comply with our “asks.” And at that point, we may reiterate (explain) why they should or must comply.

Notice, when we’re explaining in this way, we each assume our own point of view. We explain to influence and persuade that. We have good reason for asserting our position on the matter at hand. And our annoyance with the presumptuousness of others may grow: “They’re thinking only of themselves.” Oppositional tensions arise, and our defenses are activated.

Coercion is Usually Not Sustainable

There is another approach to solving problems and building qualities of problem-solving capacity. It’s called communicative action. It involves suspending our practical imperatives long enough to know the persons we are working with and with whom we're seeking to collaborate. Communicative action seeks understanding. It relaxes our urgent drive and influence efforts, knowing we can return to them soon enough.

We are individual agents of action. As persons, we operate from our own subjective centers of consciousness. You have your role, identity, purposes, and priorities. And you see the world (at work and outside of work) in light of these factors. I do the same, as do all others with whom we live and work. We’re separate but similar. We are “minded” creatures who also have needs to feel respected and be treated fairly.

Sound basic? Are you saying to yourself, “Of course, tell me something I don’t know!”? Well, the point is that when we’re caught up in the emotional intensity of our “practical” strivings, we lose sight of the fact that others live and are guided by their own practical strivings. What we need when these strivings are in conflict is a new, intersubjectively shared center of consciousness – what we shall strive for.

Yes, It’s About Slowing Down to Speed Up

Even after taking time to understand one another and form a shared view of our goals, one that is also informed by respect (and empathic feeling) for one another’s role, contributions, and accountabilities, there may be a need for compromise. I and/or others may sacrifice for the common good. But at this point, we are conscious of this sacrifice, respectful of those making it. We’re committed to fairness.

It’s not just cognitive understanding that we gain from taking time to know the other person/s and to appreciate their interests, concerns, values, and feelings. We acquire reasons of the heart from this dialogue. We care about one another and any third party (client or customer) who is the beneficiary of our collaborative efforts. Our heart is softened. Our mind is more open.

Under these changed circumstances, problem solving is so much easier, so much more intelligent, and our capacity for problem solving is so much more mature and adaptive.