Workarounds That Work: The 5-Step System That Can Help President Obama -- And You! -- Overcome Any Setback

When we hit obstacles in life, too often we are tempted to get angry or give up. The best and usually least used alternative is to "workaround" that obstacle.
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When we hit obstacles in life, too often we are tempted to get angry or give up. The best and usually least used alternative is to "workaround" that obstacle.

I was fortunate to receive an advance galley of Russell Bishop's breakthrough book, Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything that Stands in Your Way at Work (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

Here are Bishop's steps:
The steps as I understand them are simple and easy to follow:

Step 1: Own It Step 2: Desired Outcome -- Now what?
Step 3: Control -- What you can do without needing anyone else to move towards that desired outcome.
Step 4: Influence -- What you can't do, that you will need others to provide and a plan for influencing them.
Step 5: Response-ability -- What you actually do back towards the environment after you have gone through steps 1-4.

I have already used it to successfully avoid a bump in the road from turning into something much more painful and have cemented the process in my psyche to help with all future bumps and walls coming my way.

I was giving an opening session (TED like) talk to 200+ executives and leaders and was told that a few of my closing comments especially offended someone in the audience. You can actually see and hear it for yourself at: Change Your Thinking Forever in 8 Minutes.

In these "outraging people is the new compelling" times, I am not immune from saying things that will trigger strong reactions in my audience, but in my heart the last thing I want to do is hurt people's feelings.

Step 1: Own It -- When I realized that what I had said had not just offended, but hurt this individual, I felt awful.

My initial response was to say to myself, "The vast majority of the audience were not offended and you can't please everyone," and make it his problem. But inside my flirting with being outrageous exterior, still thankfully lives a "first do no harm" physician and I had done some harm.

Step 2: Outcome -- I then asked myself, what was the outcome I wanted. Since my talk was during the opening ceremony of this conference, my desired outcome was that I didn't want to ruin it for this individual.

Step 3: Control -- I then asked myself what do I have control over and realized that what I had control over was what I said and did, but no control over how it was heard. And I also realized that I had control over avoiding or approaching this individual.

Step 4: Influence -- I then thought how I might influence this individual so that I could ease his hurt and anger so that he might enjoy the rest of the conference and so that he and I wouldn't need to avoid each other.

Step 5: Response-ability -- The response I came up with was to apply a formula I came up with for my book, "The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall in Love Again and Stay There" (Perigee, $15.95) on how to rebuild trust after you have offended someone. In that formula, you accept that when you upset or offend someone, you trigger hurt, anger and hesitation to lower their guard to let you hurt them again.

Realizing this I went up to the person when others were no longer around him, reached out to take his hand and in my, "Call me Ron" (a la Reagan and Gorbachev) moment, I spontaneously said, "Hi I'm Mark Goulston and I understand that I offended you with some of my statements in my talk." He was dumbfounded, disarmed and responded by explaining what I had said and how it seemed to make unfair generalizations towards his ethnic group (BTW they are my closing remarks in my talk if you watch it all the way through). I told him that I knew it was taking a chance and that I had checked with others from his ethnic group who told me it was more metaphor than racial slur and felt it was okay and fairly eloquent. He agreed with the eloquence. I then asked him, "If you can think of a better way to express it that still makes the point without offending anyone, would you please let me know. And I am sorry and hope it will not detract from your enjoying the conference."

Not only did he accept my apology, he was so appreciative that he shared with me later that having that conversation was one of the most important things that happened to him at the conference.

President Obama you might want to give it a try.

The steps are easy to follow:

Step 1: Own It -- When adversity or setbacks occur, don't deny, avoid, finger point, make excuses or launch into a big mea culpa. What is, is. President Obama, you got "shellacked" in the midterm elections. To his credit he was quick to call it a "shellacking" and take responsibility for it.

Step 2: Desired Outcome -- Okay, so you got "shellacked" or just embarrassed. Okay, so your ratings have taken a hit. Big deal. That happened to Reagan and Clinton and they turned it around. What's your desired outcome President Obama? In fact, why not make it an extraordinary outcome (BTW Xtraordinary Outcomes is the name of new venture I have co-founded with coach extraordinaire, Doc Barham). Instead of guessing and presuming, why not send people from both sides of the aisle out to the people they represent and who elected them to dig down what their constituents most need and want. One of the reasons for Apple's and now Facebook's phenomenal success is that they are able to dig into their market to find out not just what they want and need, but to figure out what they will want and need in the future.

Step 3: Control -- President Obama, what you control is what you say and do and don't need anyone else to help you with it. You took responsibility for the mid-term loss, you got the message and you are going to heed the fact that you've got a split Congress.

Step 4: Influence -- This is what you can influence others to do to achieve your desired outcome, and if not possible a good outcome. Good is not bad. And perfect can be the enemy of what's good and possible to achieve. To influence others both outside and inside your party, President Obama, you will probably need to mend some fences and demonstrate what I call "assertive vulnerability" instead of "audacious hubris."

Step 5: Response- ability -- Bishop talks about people's response-ability, i.e. their ability to respond to situations in constructive ways that promote progress and move the ball forward. In plain English, demonstrating "assertive vulnerability" means a few well placed, "I'm sorry's" (that you mean vs. being merely tactical) and a genuine, across the aisle, "eye to eye," "bare your neck" to possible bared teeth reception, "I need your help's." And if you can do that and become an evangelist of the People and for the People enjoining both parties to serve their constituents (after they elicit what those constituents want and need) and shape a future (which will need to have some compromises) that all America will want to live into.

Whether or not President Obama uses Bishop's simple and breakthrough formula, I'd urge you to try it. It really can take a lot of the stress and insanity out of your life when you hit a wall. It did that for me.