3 Tips for Separating the People from the Problem
You have heard it discussed as a key component of Principled Negotiations. You have heard it discussed as an important part of problem solving and conflict resolution. Separate the people from the problem. It makes sense, right? It is so easy to say. If it were easy to do, we would all do it all of the time. Let’s take a look at 3 very doable tips to help move this from concept to practice.
- Do not assume their intentions based on your fears. What does this mean? What does it look like? If you have ever known someone who quit their job because they were certain they were about to be let go, you know what this means and what it looks like. Unfortunately this could lead to someone leaving a job they love just because they are certain that management is going to release them. If you have a fear or a concern about something happening, do not assume that others will make your concerns become true. In your personal life this is your friend who is certain his girlfriend is going to break up with him so he breaks up with her first. A good way to avoid this behavior is to acknowledge your fear and try to logically map it to the way the other person is behaving. You can certainly ask the opinion of trusted advisors too. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the other party; is there a REAL reason why they would make your fears come true? Have you been receiving poor performance reviews, are you on probation? Well then maybe you are right, but if not, do not jump to conclusions.
- Discuss your perceptions. If you can share your perceptions with the other party and they can share their perceptions with you, you will both KNOW what the other is thinking. To borrow from an old saying, try putting yourself in their shoes, imagine how things seem from their angle. The trick here is to listen to what the other party has to say. Do not argue with them or tell them that their perceptions are ridiculous. You might tell your manager that you thought you were on the chopping block because he does not spend much time with you and you see him spend far more time with one of your peers. In turn your manager might tell you that he did not think you needed his time and attention.
- Act differently than expected. This is not about trying to manipulate someone by surprising them with your behavior. It is about understanding negative perceptions the other party might have about you and acting in a way that helps them change those perceptions. This is you understanding that they might be making assumptions about your behavior based on their fears (see #1 above) and choosing to act in a way that helps allay their fears. Perhaps this is your boss seeking you out and spending more time with you now that he understands that you perceive him to be displeased with you.
Are there more than 3 ways to separate the people from the problem? Definitely. The beauty of the 3 we have just discussed is that they work well together and they help with some of the other issues we face in separating the people from the problem. When we put our own fears in check, when we understand the perceptions of others and then act in a way that helps others understand our true intentions, we also help mitigate some of the difficult emotions that enter into our negotiations, problem solving and conflict resolution.