I would be willing to bet good money I am not the only person who has had an argument in my life. Problems which arise between two or more people happen almost daily, and most of the time our differences stem from a lack of communication or understanding. If even one person is not listening, then there will most likely be some conflict.

I am ashamed to say I have not always handled conflict correctly in my life. I cannot even claim to be perfect at it now, but after some years I have learned a few techniques which certainly help. The first is being an “active listener,” and if you have not read it yet, then I would recommend reviewing my Listening is Speaking Blog. While listening is important, there are a few more tricks I have added to my arsenal over the years.

If we have a refined and organized process to address problems it will save a lot of time and frustration. For me, one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was “how” to choose my battles.

I was watching a news interview from a retired Senator some years ago. Unfortunately, I did not recognize the Gentleman, and I have not been able to find the interview since. Never the less the knowledge he shared is priceless.

For anyone reading this blog, if you have seen the same interview and know the Senator’s name, please email it to me. I would be most grateful since his wisdom is what I am sharing, and I would feel much better if I could give the proper credit.

While I may not have developed this process, I have learned applying it to my life is worth more than gold.

The Senator in question was asked, “you seemed to have accomplished a great many things in your time. How is it you got so many important things accomplished when others seemed bogged down with issues?”

What a great question. How is it you can get more done when others seem to have a hard time accomplishing things? I will not be able to quote the response, but I can certainly paraphrase what he said.

The Senator mentioned the best way to begin working through a problem is to determine which problems are important enough to merit your full attention. What he was saying was many times the important things simply do not get the attention needed because we are too busy worrying about insignificant issues.

Now granted every problem will be different and require a unique solution. However, if we find a way to prioritize the troubles in our life, then we stand a much better chance at having a real impact with our time. This wise Senator shared a three-step process he used to determine whether a problem was legitimately worth the precious time of he and his committee. Three simple questions which will force perspective to the surface, and I want to share them with you.

First, “Can you give me an example?” We have all seen this one used before at some point. When somebody is expressing a horrible concern about some terrible problem, and then the direct question is asked…”Can you give me a specific example?” Sometimes they can, which helps bring merit to the problem. However, it is not uncommon for the answer to this question to be “I can’t recall a specific example at the moment.”

Granted there are times when a problem displays a pattern, and it can cause great frustration. One does have to question though, if an issue was not important enough to commit to memory then was it, in fact, something which warrants our full attention to correct?

Not to mention that without specific information, it will prove very difficult to develop solutions to the problem later on. It would be like trying to solve a puzzle without all of the pieces, or any clue what the finished result is supposed to look like.

Second, “Compared to what?” When a problem is brought up, it quite often comes with an emotional attachment from the person who is bringing it to light. The trouble with this is our emotions can make something seem far worse than it really is. When we force someone to put a perspective value to the problem we are allowing them to decide for themselves if it is as important as they believe at the time. It also helps us determine if we need to spend precious moments of our life fixing the issue.

The truth is someone getting frustrated is not a legitimate reason to stop everyone in their tracks. Real problems will cause much more damage than just getting under a person’s skin.

Third, “At what cost?” The simple fact is if someone is bringing you a problem he or she should be seeking a solution. If not then send them to the complaint department where they can scream and yell all they want without wasting your time. (I want to be sure I interject here that in certain relationships it is vital to “BE” the complaint department. The context of this blog is about fixing problems in a more professional setting. There are places for understanding and compassion so do not misinterpret me. I am not saying you need to be heartless.)

Armed with the information you have now you can begin to brainstorm a solution. With your potential “fix” in mind it is time to truly consider what the cost of enacting and enforcing the solution will be. The cost, in this case, can be much more than just money. It might be infringing on other people, it may be too much time committed, or it may be that the solution will cause more problems then just leaving things be. Weigh the options carefully; this is your best chance to prevent future issues. Do not let the “Good Idea” monster (they are not always good) creep into your efficiency.

Just a quick recap of these questions, because they are solid Gold!

First, “Can you give me an example?”

Second, “Compared to what?”

Third, “At what cost?”

Using these preemptive filters will save you precious time, and will help you identify the “Real” problems which are of the highest priority. You will find yourself with much more time to devote to the legitimate problems if you can learn to filter out the less important ones at the beginning.

You do not need, nor can you hope to win or even fight every battle in life. You just need to win the ones which matter!

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