Managing the Problem-Solver

Problem-solvers are awesome to have around, aren’t they? They fix problems, whether relational, social, financial, structural, infrastructural or procedural. Problem fixing is an important and valuable skill and many people are rewarded at work for this ability.

Problem-solvers may also be really good at prospectively identifying problems and their solutions. These folks are incredible to have on project planning teams as they help to ensure the success of the project.

Clifton StrengthsFinders call this strength Restorative. A useful strength, for sure. Like all strengths, Restorative can also create difficulties when not used wisely.

Folks with Restorative strength may struggle with staying positive while identifying problems.   If overly focused on problems while ignoring the opportunities, the problem-solver may be perceived as negative or a nay-sayer. A successful and ambitious project benefits from both dreamers and problem-solvers; one without the other becomes either completely unrealistic or unable to move forward. Problem-solvers should aim to allow the group to maintain their energy towards working towards the shared vision but work to mitigate the obstacles that can submarine an otherwise good project.

That problem-solving talent can also backfire when aimed at people. Restorative folk often will focus on what someone is doing wrong or their personal flaws rather than what they are doing right or their strengths. If the problem-solver has poor self-awareness, then that criticism could have impair the development or maintenance of trust and intimacy in relationships.

Balancing positivity and problem spotting in projects and others can be difficult. What’s even more difficult is excessive problem spotting in oneself. That inward critique may be endless and relentless and make the outward criticism seem tame in comparison.

The good news about this strength is that, though it’s easy to fall into the down-side of the strength, the strength can also be used to find a solution. I mean, who better to solve the problem than someone with the Restorative strength? Apply said-talent to said-poor balance issues. Ask yourself, how can I identify and solve problems while being supportive, affirming and positive? How can I apply that remedy to myself? What is the right balance of affirming, celebrating, dreaming versus fixing and repairing? How do I integrate this into my focus, perspective and actions each day? What impact do I have when I over-focus on fixing? What other strengths can I use to offset my Restorative tendency that is more positive and generative?

We don’t have to overly rely on a couple of strengths. We can make full use of the things that we do naturally. Empathy, positivity, harmony, organizing, bringing out the best in others or a project, relationship-building, and creativity strengths all potentially could be used to find the optimum balance for this valuable but often challenging strength.

Sovereign of My Delight, Hear My Complaining

– Thomas Morley

There’s nothing like a good bi*** session, especially when done in a gossip context. Sometimes I just need to go there and vent a little. I’m not proud of it, but it does serve a purpose besides making me feel better. Jonathan Haidt, author of A Righteous Mind, describes gossip as society’s way for keeping cheaters in line. So I’m basically just doing my civic duty.

But this blog is about behaving responsibly, not about justifying my bad behavior.   I view it like eating dessert. Sometimes it’s necessary (depriving yourself completely actually makes you eat more), so it should be done in a limited fashion and as constructive of a manner as possible. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

  • Keep it brief. Ranting for more than a minute or so is self-indulgent and makes you look worse than the person you’re complaining about.
  • Take ownership of your bad behavior. Confess to stirring up bad mojo, apologize to the listener, and you’ll be less likely to indulge for long.
  • Don’t make it personal. Focus on the behavior, not the person’s character or motivation. You might think they have ill intent or are evil, but you don’t know for sure. Actually, in my experience, most people are well-intentioned.  More likely, they are struggling with how to handle a difficult situation.  Also, when it becomes personal, it becomes harder to forgive that character flaw rather than that mistake.
  • Give him the benefit of the doubt. You’re more likely to receive it in return.
  • Just like you might want to take a walk after having that lovely Godiva, spend a moment thinking about how you might have contributed to the problem. In this manner, maybe a less than ideal situation can be a learning opportunity.
  • If you’re not there to solve the problem, you’re contributing to it.  End the session with what you’re going to do to either manage or improve the situation.

So here’s my gossip for today: I indulged in complaining about someone else yesterday and am having pangs of guilt this morning.

Don’t worry, it’s nothing that a little chocolate can’t cure.

Grouchy Day. OK!

Sometimes I just don’t want to find positivity and the silver lining in my day.  No.  And I’m not sure we should have positive, upbeat days every single day.  I do think we should try most days to do so.  If we’re spending more time being negative than positive, we run the risk of being the subject of the eliminating-negative-people-from-our-lives goal that we hear from others around us.

No, we don’t want to be that toxic person, but we also don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish.  Basically, we want a good balance.

What comprises a good balance?  A good balance:

  • allows us to be genuine and authentic with our feelings and emotions, both positive and negative
  • gives us time to process the negative emotions and savor the positive
  • allows us to use negative emotions to create positive change
  • encourages us to find that silver lining without ignoring the real risks and downsides to a situation
  • helps to inform us when something is going wrong, or right
  • doesn’t dwell on the negative more than is necessary to detect, learn and grow
  • respects that we’re human and that we will have a wide range of emotions.  Experiencing all the emotions allows us to experience the whole range, since we can’t just select the positive emotions and eliminate the negative.
  • acknowledges that we can’t necessarily help how we feel but we can also understand that we may have conditioned ourselves to over- or under-react to a situation.  Considering a situation from different perspectives might help us to determine whether we’re responding proportional to the situation.
  • accepts and forgives those emotions in ourselves and others.  Acceptance allows us to constructively channel and manage those feelings.

So today I’m feeling tired, a little annoyed and overwhelmed.  That’s OK.  I need a grouchy day today and some time to decompress, process and intentionally and proactively relax.  By giving myself what I need today, I will be ready to re-engage in a positive manner tomorrow.

Difficult People – A Paradigm Shift

You know how everyone says obnoxious, arrogant, know-it-all people are really just insecure?  I think that really is true for most difficult people.  Some type of insecurity or fear drives many people who are perfectionists, control freaks, know-it-alls, negative, or hostile. Chances are, these fears and insecurities are on a subconscious level and so the behaviors are probably in their blind spot.  In other words, don’t expect them to have an epiphany about how miserable they’re making everyone around them.

You may not have a choice as to whether you have to interact with this person but you may be able to minimize interaction with that person.  Regardless, to the degree you have to interact with this difficult person and wish to be more successful in dealing with them, consider them from the perspective of that insecure person that you know they are.  I know that’s somewhat obvious, but I’m not sure we actually act in ways that are consistent with our intuition since we often let our annoyance or our own defensiveness and fears get in the way of doing what we know is the right thing to do.

The best way to manage insecure people  is to help them feel more confident or safe.  If they’re concerned about being attractive, in control, smart or right, then direct the conversation to how they look nice, are competent, intelligent or wise.   Focus on areas where you really believe they are talented or excellent and sincerely compliment them or help them savor their past successes.  In my experience, this approach works well most of the time, and an insecure person can become a pussycat if you focus on their good side.   After all, when others focus on our best qualities, don’t we all tend to lead with our best foot?

If you don’t feel like you have the time to affirm your colleague, consider how much time you will waste by arguing or exploring unnecessary diversions.

If you can’t think of anything good to focus on, consider that fact.  Is it really true that some people have no good qualities at all?  None?  Start with one, then find something else to be proud of in that person.  If you can’t, consider what role you’re playing in this dynamic.  Are you sure that they are the difficult person?  What role does being judgmental play in this relationship?

If killing them with kindness doesn’t work and they’re behaving badly, instead of arguing or criticizing, consider that they may just want to be heard.  Affirming another’s feelings as having validity, even if you don’t share their feelings, often allows the other to take the emotions down a notch or two.   For example, instead of arguing why someone should do it your way, empathize with their feelings about that approach or really try to listen to their perspective.  When I’ve made the effort to stow my attitude, I have found I’m a much better listener and more likely to learn something I didn’t know before.  Others tend to be less defensive when I try to really  get them.  Remember, just because they have a different viewpoint does not make them wrong.  Consider that maybe you’re missing something important and you would benefit from listening without judgment.

If that still doesn’t work, or the tirade is continuing unabated, try a little humor.  It can be hard to sneak humor in sometimes.  If I want to cheer someone up, I tap dance for them.  It’s corny, and I have to be willing to look like an idiot, but it works. (Note to wise:  to avoid this embarrassing behavior from me, you know what to do).

In the end, every single one of us is uniquely awesome.  By only focusing on what separates us instead of others’ unique and valuable contribution, we create unnecessary barriers, conflict and alienation without realizing we are doing so.  For both good and bad relationships, it takes two to tango, and a dysfunctional dynamic continues only if both are willing to perpetuate it.  Take personal leadership in your relationships and set the right tone.  Even if nothing else changes, the peace of mind is worth the effort.

What You Lookin’ At?


A moment to notice.  Photo credit:

A moment to notice. Photo credit:

You know how life is short and we shouldn’t waste precious time with negative people?  Well, life isn’t the only thing that is limited and precious.  So is your attention.  Among millions of stimuli each day, you can only notice and register so many things in a day.  What you notice is probably based on habit.  What are you in the habit of noticing?

  • Do you see that the sidewalk is dirty, or the colorful flowers planted next to it?
  • Do you pay attention when someone is kind to you, like holding open a door for you, or only when people are inconsiderate?
  • Do you notice the smell of the fresh breeze, or only the fumes of a car?
  • Do you notice the smile of your child, even if you see it every day?
  • Do you smell the inviting aroma of your meal, even if you have three of them each day?
  • Do you see the color of the sky as the sun rises, or just the alarm clock that tells you to get out of bed?
  • Did you notice your family member took out the trash, or only that he left his shoes out?
  • Did you acknowledge the compliment someone gave you, or just look for signs of insincerity or reasons to dismiss it?
  • Did you notice the care or creativity your colleague used to complete the task, or just what he didn’t do?
  • Do you see the ice crystals hanging from the branches, or just that you have to scrape your car?

What you notice becomes your reality.  If you only notice negativity, ugliness and pain, that is what will comprise your world.  Notice beauty, kindness, and excellence, and your world will brighten up.  And so will you.

The Karmic Parenting of Humanity

The unseen but tangible relationships between gratitude, positivity, forgiveness, optimism and productivity, creativity and even good luck have been shown in scientific research.   The more you embody positive emotions, the happier and more successful you are likely to be.  The phenomenon has much to do with creating your own reality:  the more that you expect good things to occur, the more they are likely to happen.    The better you feel (grateful, optimistic, forgiving), the happier you will be.  It’s a positive, upward spiral.  In other words, the happy get happier.

The reverse is also true:  the more negative, pessimistic and cynical you are, the more likely you will be to create that reality.  A negative, downward spiral.  The miserable get more miserable.

Some feel that they are victims in their own world.  For sure, there is much suffering and pain among people who have done nothing to deserve it.  But there are also victims and martyrs among the most affluent and successful regions of the world, and peaceful, contented, grateful people among the poorest.  Given that our economic or social circumstance may not be entirely within our control, and that neither of them guarantees happiness (or misery) anyway, then apparently our happiness starts with us.  It’s not the other way around. We are happy because we choose to be happy.  Our circumstances do not make us happy.

This upward spiral is described in many resources including Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. From my personal experience, this phenomenon is so very true.  The more I maintain a positive, optimistic, grateful attitude, the more smoothly my life seems to go, things fall into place, and I can get into flow (I’m in my groove, my sweet spot!).

It’s almost as if there is some karmic parent out there doling out rewards and punishments:  Suzie didn’t say thank you, so she gets no more gifts; Suzie has a bad attitude and is going into time out; Suzie did something she knew was wrong and is going to get spanked; Suzie didn’t do her homework and has to stay after school. Suzie made A’s in school and will get to stay up late and watch Homeland.  Suzie wrote a nice thank you note and so will get a mani-pedi for her next gift.  Suzie ate all her dinner and will get chocolate cake for dessert.

That being said, a great attitude won’t prevent anyone from getting cancer, getting hit by a car, or losing their job.  It only means that you are more likely to turn a setback into an opportunity and weather the crisis gracefully.  In other words, positive, optimistic people are resilient. 

I don’t really know, in the end, about the karmic parent or the neurobiology behind the upward spiral.   I just know that it’s there and whether we’re riding up or down is our choice.  What are you choosing?

Brain On A Rampage

Cultivate your mind to bloom

Cultivate your mind to bloom

Friends don’t let friends live in a toxic wasteland.

Which is why we’re going to have this difficult conversation.

Stop it.   Stop letting your brain ruin your health and happiness.

Miraculous organ though it is, our brain can also be our own worst enemy.  Just because a thought pops into your head, it does not mean you have to believe its negative or self-destructive message.  It does not mean you have to obsess over mistrustful, victimizing, blaming and paralyzing thoughts.  It does not mean you have to spend all your time focusing on thoughts that do not bring you joy.

Allowing our minds to roam free into destructive territory is like letting your two-year old have free reign of the baking and cooking supplies.  It’s like opening our bank accounts to all salesman and swindlers, our naked bodies to the elements.  Why do we squander the precious resource that is our mind as if it has no consequence?

It does have consequence, and you should be actively giving your consent to where your mind resides.

You may not be able to control where it goes, but you can control where it stays.

  • Don’t stay in an angry place. Choose forgiveness.
  • Don’t stay in a resentful place.  Let go.
  • Don’t stay in a paranoid or mistrustful place.  Give the benefit of the doubt.
  • Don’t stay in a helpless/victimized place.  Choose empowerment.
  • Don’t stay in a blaming or judgmental place.  Choose empathy and personal responsibility.
  • Don’t stay in a sad place.  Choose joy.
  • Don’t stay in a place where you feel deprived.  Choose gratitude.
  • Don’t stay in a dark place.  Choose the light.
  • Don’t just see the bad in people and situations.  Choose to see their good side and the opportunities.

Don’t waste your precious mental (or otherwise) resources on anything that will prevent you and those around you from feeling affirmed, joyous and creative.  A mind is truly a terrible thing to waste.  Don’t turn something so precious into a toxic dumping ground.  Instead, choose to make your mind a garden of Eden, and watch what blossoms.