Stopping the problem becoming a nightmare

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How big is the problem?

Is it a total disaster?

Is it a complete nightmare?

Is it a meltdown situation? A tragedy? The end?

There are understandable reasons why language like that is assigned to describing a problem. It gives a sense of urgency to dealing with it and demonstrates how significant it is at that point in time. However, language like that can provoke a flight/fight response, shutting down the capacity to think in a manner that would be more effective. Total disaster terminology can make the problem seem too big, too difficult and too significant for one person to get under control.

How you frame a problem will be the first step in deciding how well you will deal with it. Moving away from disaster generalizations comes from asking three, very specific questions:

i.Is the problem personal?

ii.Is it pervasive?

iii.Is the problem permanent?

Let’s take an example. A project that you have been engaged in receives a blow when you get an email telling you that a key person is pulling out.

Is that personal? No, they are pulling out of the project, not rejecting you as a person. It’s a reflection of their current circumstances and workload, rather than a judgement about the value of the project.

Is it pervasive? No, you probably have a dozen other things that you are doing at work, college or home that have nothing to do with this project. They aren’t effected in any way by the problem. You’ll still be meeting up with friends on Saturday, going to the park this evening and having that planned meeting this afternoon.

Is it permanent? No, there are other people who can help, other resources available and different choices about how to get the project finished. It’s one project. It will come to an end and like will carry on.

Of course, none of this makes the problem go away. It still has to be solved. But those three questions move the problem from a disaster to something that you can get perspective on and deal with.

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