Hi, James Loewen here with another blog. It is not you, and that is the good news. The bad news is that it isn’t them either. Actually this is all good news. When I am teaching the Principled Negotiating course and coaching, this is one of the biggest shifts for people. I am not the problem, you are not the problem. The problem is the problem.
Whether I am buying, selling or managing people I have found that separating the person from the problem helps me get a better outcome every time.
When we see the person as the problem the negotiation process becomes more difficult as we have now added the other person’s identity to the problem. We have made them enemies simply by mixing them in with the problem. This seriously limits creativity in problem solving, and increases the cost and emotional content of the problem.
An example of this can be seen in some customer service environments where ‘the customer is always right’. This is a classic mix the problem with the person language. If the customer (person) is always right, then it doesn’t matter what the problem is, and the opportunity to weed out those taking advantage of your business and those who have genuine critical feedback is lost. Add that to the fact that clearly customers can be very wrong, and you will have a stressed out staff who have to swallow their good will and knowledge and accept a false reality. A better expression of customer service is ‘The customer is always valued’, which is more about how we problem solve and allows for useful feedback both ways.
EXAMPLE – CAR INSURANCE. My Mom’s car was crushed by a tree and the insurance company rights it off. As might be expected they low ball us with replacement value (5K vs 8-9K).
Their Initial Position = I will give you 5K for the car
My Initial Position = I will not accept anything less than a fair value.
Problem = replacement value of the car NOT “Big Insurance is Evil and Greedy”
Our Issues = car value determination process, method of communicating between us
It wouldn’t be hard in this example, in fact my first gut instinct was, to blame the adjuster and Big Insurance for their insensitive and evil ways. They are always looking out for number one and the bottom line. Defining the problem as being the fact that the other party is evil or greedy is rarely a productive way to get more of what we want in a good way. It was much easier to address what needed to be solved and to have that problem be a shared problem when I defined it neutrally and clearly.
When we identify the problem as something that is external to our identity, is outside of ourselves, we allow the problem to be discussed more freely. We can talk about the issues (the stuff of problems are referred to as issues) neutrally. Because I am not defending myself as much, my emotional energy can be used to engage the issues. This provides a higher level of clarity around defining, analyzing and considering the issues at hand. This is the difference between ‘You are such a pain’ and ‘It bothers me when you do that.’
Once I was able to depersonalize the insurance problem from ‘the insurance company is trying to rip my Mom off’ to ‘We need to determine the fair value of the vehicle’ I was much more able to achieve my goal of a reasonable/fair valuation. We ended up accepting an offer for $8400.
Some of the key benefits to this tactic include reducing negative emotional content, reducing defensiveness, reducing the us/them dynamic, increasing creativity, information sharing and reducing costs.
A well-defined problem will address what needs to be resolved, changed or improved in neutral language and which shows an understanding of the needs, wants and goals of each party.
Give it a try yourself. The next time you feel like treating someone like they are the problem, figure out what the real problem is and deal with that instead. Pick a difficult problem you are dealing with right now and try to define the problem neutrally in a way that doesn’t offend the other person or make them feel attacked. If you need help with integrating these techniques in your life, feel free to connect with me.