A Teachable Moment

Like many of you I have been watching with increasing frustration the daily debacle coming from Washington.  Rather than just fume I’ve decided to try to turn this into a teachable moment.  I’m not going to play the blame game – there’s more than enough blame to cover the professional politicians involved in this mess.  Instead, let’s look at this in terms of compromise and consensus.

Compromise is a term often used to characterize negotiations.  “Everyone has to compromise” is the phrase often heard, usually an instruction from the party in power to the weaker party, right?  How many of you have been involved in negotiations where demands were made on you to give up something in order for you to gain something?  Here’s the problem.  If what you have to give up has a greater perceived value than what you receive how willing are you to compromise?  Compromise works best when mature adults engage in a balancing act where the guiding principle is fairness, not getting one over on someone.

Consensus is defined as achieving general agreement through harmony.  The starting point is the focus on the issue or situation,  usually accompanied by an objective identification of the problems.  When engaged in trying to find a general agreement mature adults use creative and critical thinking skills.   Again, the guiding principle is fairness.  The parties involved in consensus are not asked to give up anything in order to gain something in return.  Consensus works best when the communication stays open and fair.   Ultimately what results generally treats the staff fairly.  Isn’t it an accepted business practice that if you do right by the people who work for you they will do right by the organization?

So which approach works best for you?

Frustration 401

Talk about things going wrong!  How many of us have experienced flight delays and cancellations due to storms?  This winter season and early spring have certainly tested my frustration level.  As I wrote this I was on a plane  for Orlando but we were diverted to Tampa for refueling due to weather.  The question then was whether we would get refueled and off the ground in Tampa before the weather closed that airport.

Sound familiar?  It’s a problem and there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do to solve it.  But there is something I can do to make the situation better.  First, I need to keep things in perspective.  I realized that at some point I would arrive at my destination.  Dealing with the detours and delays really becomes just another task to insure that I reach my goal.

Second, I need to keep my sense of humor.  Getting angry would not have cleared up the weather any faster than what Mother Nature had intended and humor helps me keep things in perspective.   How does that relate to the problems that continue to plague your organization?  Many times the problems you’re facing are very serious and require difficult decisions to be made.  There’s nothing funny about having to discipline or even fire someone.  But the point about keeping the anger in check and maintaining a perspective  needs to be emphasized.  When did losing your temper ever solve anything?  Keeping things in perspective helps establish needed priorities. Working hard to accomplish the tasks is easier with the help of a problem solver.  Who better to vent your anger and frustration on than with someone whose only agenda is helping you solve those persistent problems?  I won’t take it personally.

Long Term Solution or Use a Band-Aid? (A follow up to consensus or compromise)


Recently I was talking with a friend who described an issue at his church.  It got me thinking that in our lives, two of the places where problems most frequently develop are our churches and schools.  Their problems provide excellent opportunities for all of us to learn the essentials of problem solving and team building.

Problems with our schools have made the news all across the country.  Problems with our churches  – not so much.  One of the decisions many churches have to face is how to deal with large attendance.  Two solutions usually recommended are to either change the schedule to include two or more services, or to enlarge the facility by building a bigger church.  There will be resistance to either approach.  Change can be uncomfortable for a lot of people.  What’s the best way to present possible solutions and to gain a consensus on which path to take?

No matter what the organization is, a church, school, small business, corporation, community agency, etc., the options for the range of solutions is to address a long term, permanent solution or take the Band-Aid approach.  Here’s something to consider.  What exactly are you trying to accomplish?  Taking either approach will have its benefits and pitfalls.   Long term solutions make the problem go away for extended periods of time or make it disappear completely.  Band-Aid approaches may buy some time and minimize the ruffling of feathers.  The important thing to remember is to keep your focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.  Hiring a problem solving consultant will make that process a whole lot easier.

Problem solving through consensus or compromise?

As the leader of the organization which has successfully identified the root cause of the problems, the question you may now face is which approach to take in developing and implementing solutions.  It’s a given that you have the courage to bring together both the leadership team and employees to develop the solution so let’s take a look a couple of things.

Do you develop and implement solutions through consensus or compromise?  Does it really matter?  Yes, it really does matter.  Look at the definitions of both words.  Consensus is usually defined as a general agreement or judgment arrived at by most of the individuals involved.  Think of consensus as being a general agreement reached through mutual accord or harmony.

Compromise is defined as a settlement which has been reached either through consent or arbitration with both involving mutual concessions.  So what’s really the difference here?  Compromise and consensus can achieve the same goal but there is a down side to the compromise approach.  Most folks think of compromise as a give and take approach.  If you end up believing that you’ve given up more than you’ve received, there’s a tendency to feel cheated.  How motivated would the parties be to implement solutions to problems they feel were forced on them?  What are some of the long term consequences of an unpopular compromise?  How much better off would your organization be if you hired a problem solving consultant who facilitated consensus?  You decide.