Why is it Comforting to Listen to Problem-focused Media

Problem-focused Media, TransparentThe job of the journalist is to create transparency.

So, why do we pay so much attention to the media’s incessant drumbeat about the world, our country and our city falling apart?

Why do we turn on the online news before breakfast and again for the 6 o’clock TV news to hear the latest list of situations and issues presented as catastrophes? Why is it that journalists dutifully ask a politician who is problem-focused ask questions about the problem that the politician has divined as critical to our well-being (when it’s actually, a vote gathering tactic)?

As Lyndon Johnson, a media observer, says: Journalism, largely, has become a battle for clicks and attention, and there is little in the way of true investigative journalism anymore.  In part, it’s because solutions aren’t interesting to the masses.  The train wreck is far more interesting than how to avoid its recurrence.

Suppose the media turned to solutions journalism – would it necessarily mean less engaging, ‘happy news’ would become the norm? No. Instead we’d see more of the story. Can we totally avoid problem-focused news? No, some catastrophes need to be reported the way they are, e.g., the recent unexpected volcano eruption in Japan that killed nearly 50 people. Or, when a bomb explodes in a crowded market. That said…

The job of the good journalist is to create transparency…from all sides!

Can Solution Focus help the journalist (and their editor) do a better job creating transparency? Here’s a framework that might help:

  • What’s the problem/issue we are investigating and reporting?
  • How can we clarify the nature of the issue without focusing on only one part?
  • What’s the other side of the problem story, i.e., what about the part of the story that is not a problem, and/or what’s being learned from this change that we are reporting?
  • What questions can we ask the person explaining the problem, (e.g., the politician) that can help them highlight where progress can be made?

More video on Solutions Journalism

How to bring transparency to, ‘That’s Not What We Wanted!’

We’ve all been there. You’ve worked hard to develop the presentation or proposal. During the meeting there’s shuffling of feet. Suddenly, a member of the team says, ‘This is interesting, but…’Presentation. Briefing. Alignment. Solution Focus

The presenter of the bad news has only mild awareness that likely this situation arose because they were, a) under skilled at briefing, and/or b) the project briefing and its context have changed.

In a world of increasing transparency, we still work with the fallacy that when the customer (your boss, a client, etc.) asks you (the manager, supplier, etc.) to address a goal or answer a problem, that your initial proposal will be the right solution.

Why does this happen? The art of giving good briefings is lost on some. Plus, change is constant. The time between a briefing and the presentation may only be a few days, but it’s subject to constant change. And, few projects involve only one stakeholder – just think of the changes going on around each stakeholder. All of this undermines what you were told in the briefing (vs. an information dump!).

Hence, when you present your ideas, there’s a good chance that what you show makes the key decision maker and/or some of the stakeholders fearful, i.e., that they will have to implement it, or that it will conflict with their own emergent strategies and tactics.

Using Solution Focus how do you, the presenter, a) respond, b) help the client (internal or external) to avoid this happening again?

1. How to respond to ‘That’s not what we wanted!’

Don’t fold. Their perceptions or the specs may have changed, but there’s still value in what you brought to the table. After all, they may have gotten some of the brief right! Rather than trying to justify the solution you brought, or worse becoming defensive (remember, it’s their problem!), try this approach:

a)     Ask them to clarify what they meant by, ‘not wanted.’ Sometimes people overreact when they see what they asked for. Just let them speak and don’t respond.

b)     Refresh them on the original briefing, but don’t open up a debate about it.

c)      Ask, ‘What parts of the proposal do work for you?’ relative to the briefing. If the answer is ‘nothing,’ try scaling 1-10 the various elements (1 is worst, 10 is ideal). The parts that get better numbers should be noted. Make sure you hear the different stakeholder perspectives – that will help them see what they have in common and their conflicting perspectives

d)      Ask, ‘Thinking of what’s not working, what would it look like if they were to get better?’ This will encourage them to clarify what they originally wanted and what’s changed.

2. How to help the customer avoid giving you a thin brief next time they request your thinking (and a lot of your time)

Take a leadership position and assume that it’s your job to help them give you a good briefing. Instead of an information session, make the briefing process an outcomes clarifying experience.

a)  During the briefing ask, ‘What’s working (relative to the project) that we don’t have to fix?’ And, ‘What’s the one barrier that we have to overcome?’

b) Make sure you get the perspectives of each the key stakeholders. For stakeholders not present at the briefing, ask the briefing person/team, ‘How would you see that working for your other stakeholders?’

c)  Ask, ‘Suppose we are successful in not only bringing you a good proposal, but implementing it so it’s a success – what would be different/better?’ Again, from each stakeholder perspective

d)  Ask, ‘Suppose during the proposal development period things changed, how would you see yourself handling that so that our proposal continued to align with your circumstances?’ And, ‘Suppose we check in with you to see what progress/change is happening how would you see that being useful to you?’

Why does this approach work? Because we take responsibility for helping people making a request are clear on not only what they are asking for, but also the outcomes that they seek. Hence, greater transparency.

The oldest line about the client/supplier is that they can never fully align. Use Solution Focus better questions to help your customer increase the likelihood of sustained alignment in an infinitely changing world.

More about better briefings and presentations in my book, ‘Monkey Free Meetings.’


Use Transparency to Clarify Problems, Build Solutions

Much has been said about the chronic need for transparency in government, on Wall Street, etc. The advocates of transparency like WikiLeaks see themselves as champions of the truth.Transparency, problems, solution focus

Transparency is an essential component of making progress in society. Some would say that a few of the champions of transparency are a bit obsessive; they become so enmeshed in proving their point as a means to an end that the ‘end’ is no longer clear.

The problem with understanding something is that it gives you the illusion that you can fix it–Hart Blanton

Similarly, those who obfuscate to prevent transparency are sustaining their need to remain opaque solely in their self-interest.

How can we use transparency and make progress in organizations?

In Solution Focus, we aim at helping people get to the solutions they want by reframing their view of the problems they face. Most problems in organizations are a construct.

Construct: (noun) an idea or theory containing various conceptual elements, typically one considered to be subjective and not based on empirical evidence Oxford dictionary

When you are looking for the root cause of a problem by pressing for transparency you may never see the end of the analysis, and it often results in assessing blame.

A transparency problem ‘construct’ points at blame vs. solutions.

It defeats transparency. So, understand the problem, just don’t enter into it.

Instead, focus on transparency in order to clarify what needs to get better and build solutions.

A solution focus perspective on transparency:

The old transparency model Transparency that leads to solutions
– Dramatize the person’s problem for the sake of getting their attention (as well as the attention of others) – Ask the person what they are doing that works and what needs to get better
– Attack the opposition’s credibility in order to get them to change their mind – Ask the person what they are aiming for and how that will be useful to others
– Expose and force the person to admit they are wrong – Allow the person the space to admit they have learned from the situation

Will this change the opaque bankers or WikiLeaks people? No! But, it can help people in organizations make progress using transparency about the problem and the desired solution.