Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Problem Is Never The Problem

From Communication Nation:

Found on a wall in San Francisco.

But the pithy statement is truly an axiom of human relationships.  Especially in modern religious circles.  When was the last time a congregation split over a doctrinal issue - really? The professed issues are really not the issues.  It's practically always about ego, pride, fear and security - not about the "issue" supposedly under consideration.

From an interview with conflict management consultant Rick Brennan:

"You have to start by accepting conflict," said Brenner, who quickly noted the distinction between destructive conflict and creative conflict. "I wouldn't want to work in a place where there's no creative conflict."

For managers -- and astute workers -- the key is understanding the difference. Destructive conflict is the kind where two employees sabotage each other through gossip and backstabbing, instead of working for the team.

A skilled manager will encourage a brew of ideas, yet not let their discussion or exchange become mean.

Brenner's second principle is a well-known axiom among management consultants: The problem is never the problem.

"What people are arguing about is not what the conflict is about," he said.

Lingering issues from previous encounters may be there, or that unfairness thing may be the driving force.

Here a skilled manager must be perceptive and patient -- and require the embattled workers to step back, cool off and deal with their conflicts, both on the surface and much deeper.

"The solution," Brenner said, "is to get each person to explain his perspective and to look at the other person's perspective."

Isn't that almost a superhuman thing, to get employees to reason calmly in the heat of battle?

"Sure," said Brenner, "but the manager could say, 'We have lots of conflicts. We have to work together to understand each other.'"…"

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