So, Who Owns The Problem Now?

I just sent my I-Message. The “other” is looking a little defensive. Where are we in the Behavior Window? This question often comes up during Leader Effectiveness Training workshops. Did I just give my problem to the other? Or, is there a new problem?

Let’s use an example to clarify. I have a work colleague whom I trust and respect, Sylvia. She is a great co-worker, smart, hard-working, cooperative, helpful. All that stuff you hope for in a team member. Lately, however, she has been driving me crazy. I will send her an e-mail with three questions.

For example, “Are you free for a meeting on Friday at 1:00? Did you get a response on our Clark bid? And have you had a chance to review that document I sent on Monday?” A day goes by and she responds. “Friday’s great! See you then.” O.K., but what about the Clark bid and the document? This has happened two or three times in the past couple of weeks. So, I send her another e-mail with the other two questions repeated. And, for good measure, I send a third e-mail with just the third question. Just in case! Seems like a small thing but it does cause me to do extra work and sometimes I am delayed in getting information I need.

So, I decide that her behavior has fallen below the line of acceptance in my behavior window. I create a Confrontive I-Message and commit to sending it during our Friday meeting. It goes like this: “Sylvia, a couple of times during the past week or so, I have sent you e-mails with several questions, you respond by answering only the first question, like the e-mail where we decided to meet today. (I also asked about the Clark bid and the document I had sent earlier). When you do that, I have to either send another e-mail repeating the other questions, or call you on the phone. That’s extra time and trouble for me. I gotta’ tell you, it’s kind of frustrating.”

After a short pause, she says, “Sorry. I was really busy. I answered your other two e-mails. Besides, I knew we would be meeting today and we could discuss it here. The answers are kind of complicated and I thought it would be better to talk in person. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?

So, who owns the problem now?

Here’s the way I understand it. I still own the original problem. Sylvia has not done or said anything to indicate that she is willing to change her behavior. She has not agreed to read my e-mails all the way through and make sure she answers all of my questions. I have no assurance that I will not need to send multiple e-mails in the future.

Sylvia’s response to me, however, is a new problem. She is a little taken aback by my confrontation. She seems a little defensive. Sylvia “owns” her response (It is a new “B”). In my Behavior Window, her defensive response looks like signaling behavior. It goes in the “other owns” section of my window. I know what to do because that’s what we teach in our leadership training workshops (L.E.T.) I shift gears and Active Listen. It has not become a “we” own at this point. Sylvia may yet agree to change her behavior and accommodate my needs.

who owns the problem at work leadership trainingSo, I say something like this, “Yeah, you have a lot going on and you can’t respond to everything right away. Besides, some of the stuff I asked about might take a little more thought. You knew we would have this time today to discuss them so why try to put something that complex into an e-mail. Better to discuss in person. You also feel a little put off by me bringing it up in this way.”

Sylvia: “Yeah. You know I’ll get everything done. We work together really well.” More Active Listening, “Our working relationship is important to you. You want me to trust you. You don’t need to be reminded of every little thing. It stings a little.”

Shifting back to the I-Message: “I see that. I just wanted you to know that when you don’t respond to my entire message, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know that you are planning to discuss it at our lunch meeting so I feel like I have to take the time to re-send it. I worry that you didn’t see the last part of the message.”

So, at this point, Sylvia might say something like, “I understand. I mean you can’t read my mind right? Okay, so….from now on I will say something about each question. Even if I can’t answer it right away, I will tell you so we can plan to get together or something.”

I say, “Great.” Now, both of the “B’s” are now gone if I trust that Sylvia will do what she promised.

On the other hand, it may not be that easy. Sylvia might say, “You just don’t understand how busy I am right now. I get these e-mails that go on and on and on. If I take the time to read all of them all the way through, I wouldn’t get anything done. Most of the time, the only thing new is in the first sentence or two. The rest is just history from previous messages. I wish that people would get to the point.” (More signaling behavior).

So, I Active Listen. “So, for you, I’m the one who doesn’t see the whole picture. Stopping to read every e-mail all the way through is unrealistic. You’re a little overwhelmed right now. Besides, when you do read on, typically there is nothing that you didn’t already know. It feels like a waste of time for you.”

Sylvia says, “Exactly. I don’t mean to make your job harder but I don’t see how to fix it.

So, now who owns the problem? Since I took L.E.T., I recognize this as a “We” own the problem. It is an opportunity to try Method III conflict resolution. Sylvia and I have different needs at this moment and there is no immediately apparent solution that meets all of those needs.

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