What’s the REAL issue?

Paul Andrew, connectleadership.comHere’s another question about “Stepping into Emotional Pressure.”

Q. In your story, you never mentioned specifics on the issues that you and Don were in disagreement about. Why not?

A. Have you ever faced a situation where the issues came up one after another, and seemed to never end? Just as you solve the current “high pain” issue, a new one comes up.

My take on this phenomenon is that it happens when I’m addressing the easily visible surface level issues, aka “content,” as opposed to the harder to see, more profound issues, aka “process.” I can pick off the content level issues one after another, but because I’m not getting at the deeper problem, new content level issues keep coming.

In the situation I faced with Don, it appeared to me that the specific issue we disagreed on (which was how quickly to roll out a new program) was a content issue. At a deeper level I saw the process issue as him being broadly angry and frustrated, and me deciding that I didn’t want to be the recipient of that strong emotion. Thus my prediction was that even if we came to terms over the pace of the roll out, then he’d find something else to be angry about. Thus I put most of my energy into the deeper issue.

Having said that, I think there is a time and place to work on the surface level content issues as a way of building relationship. Then there is more leverage to work out the underlying process issue. In fact in this case we initially negotiated a plan to address the surface level issue of the rollout, but the process issue was too severe, and Don left before we could get to work on the plan.

So if you’re in a situation where the problems are coming up one after another, ask yourself “What’s the REAL issue here?”


Paul Konasewich

© 2007 Paul Konasewich


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