Good News: You’re Part of the Problem

A new coaching client, after our first session, said “I now see that I’m part of the problem.” His new awareness is a wonderful launching point for valuable work. Unfortunately, this insight is more often something we resist or deny. Our egos work very hard – and effectively — to have us look the other way, outside of ourselves, when diagnosing interpersonal problems. We are naturally skilled at finding something and someone to blame for any friction in our work relationships. But it of course takes two to sustain a conflict. Regardless of who has more or less responsibility for the initial communication breakdown, as long as each party has more than 1 percent responsibility, both parties can and should help move toward an improved status quo.

You can choose to look for this “I’m part of the problem” discovery in any strained work relationships, and then see it as good news. It’s good news for two reasons:

• First, if you are part of the problem, then you are already embedded right at the heart of it. That means you’re ideally positioned to be a catalyst. You are at the control panel with a choice of change levers you can pull that will directly impact the relationship. You don’t have to look for hidden solutions or stretch way outside your lane.

• Second, when you acknowledge you are a player in the problem, you will come up with solutions in which you are also a player. And you can control your own actions and assumptions. If you choose to define yourself as outside the problem, then the solutions you generate – or wish for — will likely be dependent upon the actions of others – people you do not control. You might be able to force a few short-lived behavior changes in others, but you won’t change attitudes over the longer term unless you are a willing, visible protagonist in the solution.

To test drive this approach, identify one slightly strained work relationship or misunderstanding (don’t start with your toughest cookie). Now put yourself in the driver’s seat (which is really where you were all along) to choose a next move and attitude shift. Look beyond your first instincts surrounding the “problem person” and decide what you will do to shift the dynamic and bring about a more constructive response.