Identify root of workplace problems

Q. I'm generally overwhelmed by the number of problems I face at work every day. I've been to time management classes. I know how to prioritize. I still see no way to actually fix the mountain of issues that face me every Monday morning. Is there some way not to start out behind every day I go to work?

A. Yes, Albert Einstein was fond of saying, "A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it." Problems are like rabbits: They multiple because there are central issues that propagate them. If you can spot and get rid of these central issues, your problems at work will become a manageable pile.

Try this exercise: Write down all the problems you currently face at work. Now, next to each problem, list the causes and attributes. Now circle everything these problems have in common.

What you are looking for is the iceberg that is sinking your workplace boat. Most problems are actually symptoms of key issues that are harder to identify. If you can see the root issue, the symptoms will clear up.

For example, let's say most of your coworkers get defensive and spend a lot of time criticizing you. You could get in an argument with every person who does this or wonder why people tend to be defensive around you. You may find that you are actually quite critical of other people and this puts your coworkers on the defensive. If you change your style, guess what ... most of your arguments may disappear.

You may instead find your boss micromanages you constantly. She might just be a control freak. Then again, you may be engaged in a power struggle where you are determined to not let her influence you. What if you gave her more than enough data, control and access to what you are doing? Do you think she'd probably back off?

As Einstein observed, wise people are willing to consider all factors regarding what is creating a problem. Since most workplace problems have one thing in common -- us -- considering our contribution to any problem is critical. Once we can see how we perpetuate situations we don't like, we have amazing control to reduce the number of problems we experience.

Most of us don't enjoy seeing that we may be doing something less than effective with other people at work. We have to muster up the humility to acknowledge our skill deficits, which can make us feel a tad inadequate. Than again, facing a small pile of problems at work is a pretty sweet reward for a few minutes of inadequacy.

Be willing to take your blinders off this Monday at work. Don't run around just getting things done. Instead, identify root problems and fix the underlying problems. You'll have the pleasure of a smaller to-do list. You'll also stop having to fix the same boring problems over and over and, yes, over again.

The last word(s)

Q. I've heard that it is important to let workplace bullies know they are hurting you. Does this work?

A. No, you are just bleeding in front of workplace sharks.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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