The recent interview in the Spy with Dr. Stuart Ablon hit me as more than just a little insightful. So, I dug deeper with Dr. Ablon’s book, CHANGEABLE: How Collaborative Problem Solving Changes Lives at Home, at School, and at Work.
My first reaction to his interview caused me to wonder, “…how have so many been so wrong about discipline for such a long time?”
The suggestion in Dr. Ablon’s work is that research is actually clear when it comes to how to improve behavior, but mostly ignored, took me back to work I did a decade ago around flight training. It was difficult back then to comprehend a fact that 80% of people who became student pilots failed to complete the instruction necessary to become private pilots. Using Dr. Ablon’s language, how could thousands of people who possessed the will to fly, fail to learn the skills necessary to become a pilot?
The research we did at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) almost a decade ago is still relied upon to improve the flight training experience. The research revealed more than 40 factors that contribute to a successful flight training experience leading an individual to become a private pilot. The facts and the factors were clear. It was remarkable how so many simply elected to ignore them.
Truth is, finding subject matter experts who with experience and research challenge conventional thinking has always infatuated me. And, the more I watched Dr. Ablon’s video presentations and then read his book, the more I accepted a concept that, while I’ve embraced it most of my life, I’d never really thought about how broadly the collaborative problem solving approach could be applied.
The title tells the path that Dr. Ablon has traveled. His work started with so-called problem children. Young people with behavioral problems challenge parents and schools. And, the stakes are high because far too many troubled youth pose much larger problems as adults. So, what if the approach to discipline by a high percentage of parents, teachers, employers, prison guards and even health professionals is, well, wrong? And, by wrong I mean parents and professionals are adopting strategies that research and reality suggest will not work at any age or stage of an individual’s development.
What if, as Dr. Ablon suggests, young people do not lack the will to behave in acceptable ways, rather they lack the skills to cope with the situations in front of them? And, if it’s a matter of learning the skills – as in flying – can we get better at teaching the skills necessary for a successful and fulfilling life?
The more the reader follows the path Dr. Ablon and his team have been on, the more accepting – indeed, believing – you become that decades of experience and thousands of examples point the way to a better approach. And, you learn that what works for troubled youth, works for adults. Turns out, if you have issues at any age with flexibility, frustration and problem solving, then you need skills to improve interaction with others. In fact, refining skills in these areas even works for healthy well-adjusted people who want to get even better at resolving issues in life.
Consider the basic premise: there are only three plans, says Dr. Ablon, for resolving a conflict or issue. Plan A involves imposing one’s will on another. Plan C involves electing to let the person with whom you are in conflict “have it their way.” In neither of these approaches are both parties satisfied, thus any real progress is limited if it even exists. In between is Plan B where the parties elect to solve the problem collaboratively.
While it is straightforward to explain, it takes skills to effectively advance the collaborative approach. The parties need to listen. They need to empathize, and both sides need to have their views on the table for consideration through an open dialogue.
Dr. Ablon describes the process in detail in various settings. He shares the views of the skeptics (e.g. it is too soft; it takes too much time; if I give an inch they will take a mile). In every case where the skeptics give collaborative problem solving a chance, they see outcomes that change their view. And, it is all about positive outcomes which is where the results shared are so powerful. Years of experience with thousands of individuals from kids to cops to business leaders suggest that utilizing the collaborative problem-solving approach gets people much further.
I commend the book to anyone who thinks it is possible they might confront a challenge of any kind with another individual….I think I can guarantee that you will think differently about just how you approach the situation. And, if you think more collaboratively, you will likely be more successful.
To order this book please go here. Available from Amazon.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore.