Underlying relationship problems

Last week, two Colorado entrepreneurs asked me to develop a business model that would utilize their talents (and my own). I've been immersed in the design process and enjoying it immensely. One of the design themes that emerged is the following:

Any obvious problem (with business, education, communication, etc) is the symptom of an underlying relationship problem.

Rather than create an enterprise to fix problems, we are developing a way for relationships to get repaired or restored. When relationships are broken, there are countless opportunities to learn about oneself and the others. There are ways to outgrow past outlooks. We will use processes that change patterns of reacting and interacting.

When the underlying relationship problem is resolved -- the obvious problem vanishes without any expenditure of time, effort or money. An example from the discussion of last's week's Excellent Cheating may be helpful to grasp how problems easily disappear.

When classroom teachers "ask for plagiarism", they maintain broken relationships with their students. The teachers cannot relate to the students' points of view, look through the students' eyes, or support their intentions. The teachers attempt to control perceived misbehavior. Teachers close their minds, misdiagnose the problem, escalate the tensions, and learn nothing in the process. Cheat is not excellent, it's despicable.

Students then feel blamed, criticized, misunderstood and manipulated. The situation provides incentives to retaliate, create difficulties, oppose the power structure and sacrifice shared goals. Problems with plagiarism abound.

When the underlying relationship is restored, plagiarism vanishes. Teachers look through the students' eyes and see how plagiarism has been requested and rewarded. The teachers relate to the students' desires for "games worth playing". Teachers learn to stop assigning submittals that can be outsourced and plagiarized. Teachers open their minds to ways learning really happens. Students are engaged in expressing their own viewpoint, making decisions that have consequences, and experimenting with their own actions to discover the best approach. Their submittals are unique, heartfelt and records of personal experiences.

Students then feel valued, nurtured, guided and understood. The situation provides incentives to relate, create common ground, collaborate with authority figures and work toward common goals. Cheating makes no sense. Plagiarism vanishes.

When relationships are healthy, learning occurs. Differences become lessons. Changes occur to support the relationship. Everyone involved says they are growing from the experience. Solutions are found that abandon the obvious problems.

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  1. In a psychological study I once read about, a random sample of male adults were asked to rank themselves on “the ability to get along with others” - relationships. All the subjects put themselves in the top half of the population. Sixty per cent rated themselves in the top 10 percent of the population, and a full 25 percent ever so humbly thought they were in the top 1 percent of the population. Could this line of reasoning be the reason why we are having a ton of problems in society today?

  2. Herman, thanks for this fascinating data about self ranking our relationship abilities.

    There is an obvious connection between over-rating any abilities and widespread problems. People are contributing to problems without realizing it. They cannot critique their efforts or their effects on a situation. The over-rating oneself compensates for insecurities and inferiority that seem to be "facts of life". They are devastated by accurate assessments, corrective feedback or realizations of lesser abilities.

    There is a more subtle connection between over-rating our relationship abilities and other problems. With too much confidence, we won't make enough effort to listen to, learn from, and care for others. We think we are "more than good enough" already and don't need to make the effort to really relate. This leads to misunderstandings, distance, hurt feelings and skewed perceptions which play out as many different kinds of problems.