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

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!

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.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on the presenter. Available here and by RSS on August 15.
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Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.

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