…and a few truisms

After much blue-sky gazing over myriad cups of coffee, I have come to the conclusion that, with regard to conflict, there are some truisms at the core of the human condition. Not often recognised, these truisms nevertheless deeply affect how we deal with one another.

  1. Problems do not exist independently of humans

People speak of ‘problems’ as if they are universal whereas each problem has an owner and is unique to that person. This is because each person has a unique set of beliefs around how the world operates. By way of a simple example, if two people each suffer a leg broken in exactly the same manner their experiences will be quite different.

If there were no humans there would be no problems!

2. We never understand another person’s problems

Directly because of (1), we never fully understand the problems of others – no matter how hard we try. Obviously, it is well worth trying but do not delude yourself that you really understand.

And yet, we keep on saying, ‘I understand exactly where you are coming from’

3. ‘Solutions’ are the source of much conflict

This one is totally counter-intuitive and requires a longer explanation.

The assumption here is that ‘solutions’ have to be good for you – and the more the better!

Yet, unless there is agreement on what problem the ‘solution’ is trying to solve, and agreement on the preferred situation, different, competing, ‘solutions’ will lead to argument divorced from resolving the actual problem.

All too frequently, a preferred ‘solution’ is put forward in the guise of a problem, for example, “The problem is that the buses are going too fast“. This implies a need to slow the buses down – clearly a solution, not a problem! I imagine that the actual problem could have been ‘People being injured by buses‘, in which case there are many other possible solutions (getting rid of the people springs to mind…)

Another, very common, difficulty with ‘solutions’ being offered in the guise of a problem is that, if a particular ‘solution’ is adopted without agreeing what it is trying to solve, in this case people being injured by buses, then the offered solution will end-up being treated as if it is ‘the problem’ and the discussion will shift on to different ways to slow down the buses – as if slowing down the buses was ‘the problem’. The unfortunate result of this is that the many other possible options for tackling ‘People being injured by buses‘ are cut out of consideration.

An easy way to flush-out a problem disguised as a solution, is to ask, ‘If what you suggest was implemented, what would change?’

When you understand where you are (the problem), and where you want to be, possible solutions will readily present themselves.

A matter of truth

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

So starts Jane Austin’s ‘Pride and prejudice’. But, does being ‘Universally acknowledged’ make something a fact or is it just true.

The word ‘truth’ is bandied around quite a bit as if it were a solid ‘thing’, something final, something that ends an argument: except that it isn’t and it doesn’t.

‘Truth’ (and its opposite, ‘Falsehood’) is not interchangeable with ‘Fact’. Truth is the product of what people believe, and manifests itself as an assertive statement.

There are no ‘universal’ truths (beliefs), that is truths existing independently of people, but there are widely shared truths. However, the fact that many people believe something to be true does not, of necessity, make it true.

In short, if there were no people in the world there would be no truths or falsehoods but things would still exist or happen – ‘things’ that could also be described as ‘As it is’.

Seeing that we do have people in the world, we can apply empirical, plus rational, assessment to verify that these ‘As it is’ things exist or have happened, in which case they will then become established ‘facts’: points that we can then use as a foundation upon which to establish other facts. And, contrary to Kellyanne Conway’s assertion, there are no ‘Alternative facts‘ regarding an ‘As it is’ : various ‘truths’ but only one version of the facts!

So, for Jane Austen, it might be a universal truth but that doesn’t make it a fact.

Truth versus certainty

Bertrand Russell seemed to be on the money when he said “What men (he did say it quite a while ago…) really want is not knowledge but certainty.

Politicians and conspiracy theorists seem to understand this well. Not knowing, or simple randomness, can be quite unsettling which makes a solid statement rather attractive.

Problems are treasures

Many people do not want to know about problems. They see them as evidence of failure, something to be hidden, not to be discussed in polite company. Yet, on a personal level, or as a manager, problems are treasures – you need them.

Other than by solving problems, how else can you demonstrate that you (or your organisation) are improving? No problems to solve – no chance of improvement. Dead in the water!

The worst thing to hear is no problems, ‘Everything is fine’ – scary stuff.

Naturally, one hopes not to keep on ‘solving’ the same old problem.