A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled Why You Shouldn't Take Conflict Resolution Lessons From Politicians. In that post, I listed a number of things common to the political process that are terrible examples of how to behave when you are really trying to solve a problem or resolve a conflict.
As I look at the health care reform debate, I see a number of these behaviors in the way the discussion(s) is (are) proceeding. And, frankly, it makes me sick.
I am not a doctor, pharmacist, attorney, drug company executive or any other person who has deep insights into the intricacies of our health care system. I am, though, a person who can observe the process and see how the current discussion has virtually no hope of arriving at a good conclusion.
Virtually all of the discussion that I have seen mentions or implies that the system itself is broken. Then, the debate turns to how we should redesign the way we pay for the broken system. Almost no substantive discussion about how to fix the system. Just discussions, arguments and rants about how to pay for it.
Excuse me! How does that make any sense at all?
Do I have an opinion about what needs to happen to make the system better. Well, of course I do, and that's not the point of this post.
The point of this post is to learn from the communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving failures present in this discussion.
Problem number one: Discussing solutions before reaching agreement on the definition of the problem.
If we disagree on the definition of the problem, we can never agree on the solution. When people jump to discussing solutions before they discuss their respective viewpoints about how to best define the problem, they lock themselves into a negative spiral of conversation that rarely, if ever, leads to resolution. It might lead to one party “beating” the other. It does not lead to resolution.
Problem number two: Discussing symptoms rather than root causes.
A former co-worker of mine once received a call from a family member for help with a leaking water heater. As my co-worker entered his family member's home, he found his brother-in-law frantically mopping water from the floor trying to stay ahead of the leaking water heater. My co-worker, also my friend, approached the scene and then reached over his brother-in-law's head to shut the supply valve on the water heater. Once the supply of water stopped, the leak slowed and they could clean-up the mess. My friend's brother-in-law was so focused on the symptom (water on the floor) that he didn't stop long enough to fix the root cause (water flowing through the water heater).
Failing to clearly identify root causes forces you to spend inordinate amounts of effort on “fixing” the symptoms rather than dealing with the real problem.
When you're trying your case in the court of public opinion, attempting to preserve your chances for re-election, or hoping for a powerful sound byte for the evening news; the tactics employed by politicians may be useful. Just don't use them in your personal or professional life. They are almost destined to fail.