Day 29: How To Stop Focusing On People & Focus On Issues (It’s Easy If You Do This)

If changing who you are is easy, we’d all be doing it, right?

So, when a problem arises, why is our first reaction to focus on how the person involved needs to change? If you find yourself trying to solve problems by focusing on changing people, you have your first clue as to why it’s not working.

Bad communication styles are the root of most problems.  Closing the gap on what people said is the first step to transforming a bad situation into a positive one. See each problem as an opportunity to improve and transform; your business, your relationship…your life!

#1 Email is NOT your friend
Email is a communication tool for tactical instructions.  It’s great for next steps, follow up and task lists.  It is not a good problem solving medium.  Pick up the phone or set up time to work through issues. You could work for hours crafting the most conciliatory message, yet if the person receiving it is having a bad day, their mood translates your meaning and their reaction, taking an already tense situation to a level needed more effort to repair than the original issue. Unfortunately, we fire emails off like machine blasts, jumping precariously from one to the next and not taking time to use our words wisely.

#2 Conversations with the word “you” in it will set YOU up to fail every time
If it’s important fixing a problem, you are lying to yourself that you want the best result if the word “you” is in the communication. Remember issues aren’t people; they only relate to a person. Saying things like, “You make me feel like…” is a key indicator you believe the other person is at fault, which makes it a personal attack no matter how much you dress it up.

Statements like, “I feel,” or, “I am worried,” build rapport.  Statements like, “You make me feel,” do not.  Attach statements to the issue. A proper use of you builds rapport.  “I’m worried…what do you think?” is a great way to initiate collaboration.  Opening the topic for discussion might give you wonderful insights before you even begin to address the issue.  You don’t know, what you don’t know, until you ask.

#3 Learn to sell solutions the way top sales people do:  LAER them!

Listen.  Acknowledge. Explore.  Respond.  Even the best listeners respond too quickly. By jumping straight from listening to responding, you are debating. Debating rhymes with hating for a reason.  Don’t you hate it when you feel people ignore you?  It’s critical to let the other person know you heard them.  How can you do this better?

Acknowledge what they said verbally by clarifying their point, before you respond.  The “LAE” part of the loop can feel never-ending at times.  But guess what?  You are doing it RIGHT.  Now it’s a collaborative conversation, which is critical to putting issues to bed.

Let’s say you have a partner who is overwhelmed and it’s hurting your relationship.  You might approach the situation like this…

YOU: “I’m feeling sad that we don’t have more time for each other; how are you feeling?”

THEM: (perhaps defensively at first) “You know what? I’m doing my best, but I can’t keep up with all the kid’s activity, cook dinner, and keep this family afloat!  I’m drowning.  I get up at 6a.m. and run until I puke— no one even cares.  I can’t work out, the garage is a disaster and I’m exhausted. You want to come home to Utopia, but you have no idea what that takes!”

YOU: (hackles raised, but having read this post), ignore the you in the statement and don’t respond to the attack.  Simply acknowledge their pain, “I know how hard you work to hold this family together.  I appreciate your hard work.  What I hear you saying is you can’t find time to breathe, relax and find a few minutes each day for yourself?”

THEM: (leery of this approach but happy you noticed their efforts) “Thank you.  Yes, I just need a little help.  No one appreciates how hard I’m trying!”

YOU: (smiling and nodding) simply acknowledge (never go to E before A), “I really don’t know how you do it all without having a break down.”  Now explore the issue by saying,  “Do you think we should come up with a way that we all can pitch in and create a space so you can breathe, too?”

THEM: (relaxing, trusting you) “Well…I hadn’t thought about that.  But yeah, I think if we did x, y and z….”

YOU: (acknowledging the idea) “You know, I hadn’t thought of that.”  Now explore with a question again, “So you think if we did x, y, z we’d be able to streamline better?”

After flushing out their thoughts you can finally respond, “I’m so glad we discussed this.  I like your ideas and I have some ideas as well. Would you like to hear them?”

Again, by listening, acknowledging what they said, and validating you care by exploring their ideas further, state your opinion. Now the floor is yours to solve the problem, with a come-together-let’s-get-it-done attitude.

You can apply LAER to any situation.  Stop when you catch yourself responding first.  It’s a hard habit to break, but worth it.  And please, remember email is a lazy form of communication (so is texting).  At best, it moves your crap pile to their crap pile, until they start flinging it back.  Quicker solutions come when you dump email, use LAER and learn to compartmentalize people issues from system issues.

Last by not least; use my daddy’s 20-Minute-Rule.

If you talk about the same employee longer than 20 minutes, you need a new employee.  So, wouldn’t that translate to the personal space as well?  If you keep talking or stewing about someone or something for longer than 20 minutes, it’s time for a state of the union to make changes.  (Just don’t forget your new friend LAER.)

If you rank your relationship higher than your “ideas” or opinions, you’ll transform your relationship to one where problem solving becomes the catalyst for change in your life on every level.


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Lori Taylor is a direct marketing specialist and personal development writer. Follow her on Twitter.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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