Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 3;   January 21, 2004: Coping with Problems

Coping with Problems

by

How we cope with problems is a choice. When we choose our coping style, we help determine our ability to address the problems we face. Of eight styles we can identify, only one is universally constructive, and we rarely use it.

Rosa knew where this was going as well as anybody did — no place she wanted to go. They all sat in silence while Lambert angrily repeated his question: "Just when do you think you'll get this thing back on track?" You didn't cross Lambert when he got like this.

Will sat quietly for a moment, trying to figure out the right answer. He looked at Rosa. "Three weeks maybe?"

Rosa knew that Will knew it was impossible. She shrugged. "We could try," she replied.

CongruenceWill and Rosa are coping with Lambert's outrageous behavior in the best way they know — they're placating him. Lambert is coping with the bad news he has received in the best way he knows — by blaming.

Of the many models of human coping, I favor one developed by Virginia Satir, and elaborated by others. In one version, the model has eight basic styles, of which only one, congruence, takes into account the three fundamental elements of our reality: the Self, the Other, and the larger Context. Because congruent coping has balanced regard for all three elements, it's best suited for developing a sound response.

Effective coping requires
a balanced perception
of Reality
When we cope in any other way, we're responding on the basis of a distorted representation of reality. For instance, we might be giving too much weight to ourselves, or too little to the larger context. When we depend on distorted perceptions, we're on the path to trouble.

Learning to identify coping styles is a good first step toward congruence. Here are some of the eight styles, with illustrations of how someone using each style would deal with bad news on a project.

Placating
The whole thing is probably our fault. I hope that the problem goes away, or that someone else solves it.
Blaming
Whatever happened, it's not our fault. It's theirs. To fix it, we'll need more resources, and if we don't get what we need, it will be management's fault.
Loving/Hating
In the Hating form: There you go again, up to your old tricks. In the Loving form: Thank goodness you're around. Whatever you say must be right.
Super-reasonable
We must deliver on time, no matter what it takes — 15-hour days, weekends, whatever. Make it so.
Irrelevant
Let's rearrange the deck chairs.
Congruent
Hmmm, bad news. Let's get some answers: What will it take to correct the problem? Will we need to change the schedule? The budget? Did we miss some early warning signs?

Over the next month or so, problems will surely arise where you work, and people will cope. Categorize the coping styles you observe. The patterns you notice might help you cope congruently more often. That way you'll be coping with the problem, rather than with the problems of your coping. Go to top Top  Next issue: He's No Longer Here  Next Issue

To read more about organizational coping styles, check out "Organizational Coping Patterns"

For more about managing pressure, see the series that begins with "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006.

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenQndlsfhiqXdeVHgQner@ChacbmIXzEnbYYMsfmfwoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

Capitol Hill at nightThe Slippery Slope That Isn't
"If we promote you, we'll have to promote all of them, too." This "slippery-slope" tactic for winning debates works by exploiting our fears. Another in a series about rhetorical tricks that push our buttons.
Kayakers enjoy exploring Apostle Islands' sea caves on calm Lake SuperiorPlanning Your Getaway
For many of us, taking a vacation can be a burden. We ask ourselves, "How can I get away now?" And sometimes we have the answer: "I can't." How can we feel relaxed about taking time off?
The field of vision of a horseA Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?
An artist's conception of a planetary accretion diskWhy Scope Expands: II
The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.

See also Emotions at Work and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuBYWKkMOrajZclQZner@ChacHufWQaiiLxZVwBppoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.