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Shifting from Harm to Harmony

How to (un)solve problems

We face many decisions, challenges, and problems every day. From choosing our clothes, to our deadlines, to our children’s meals, we have to make myriad decisions in our lives. Most of these decisions (nay, all of them, if you ask an anthropologist) are driven by, informed by, and/or affect those around us. We have to keep in mind everyone else’s interests, when we make our decisions.

Those of us in leadership positions, from CEOs to parents, from non-profit lay leaders to board members, have even more decisions we need to make. And these decisions all involve many parties, affecting thousands or even tens of thousands of people (or more)! We are in the front seat, leading change or monitoring the status-quo for any potential pitfalls, constantly revising and problem-solving.

And whether you are a CEO or parenting an infant, there is a constant desire to control the outcome. We are programmed to lead and supervise and come up with inspiring ideas, and as leaders, we want to pat ourselves on the back for coming up with perfect solutions. So, when a problem arises, we eagerly seek the solution. We want to resolve the dispute quickly and easily, without much strife or losing time or energy.

But there’s a problem with us solving the problem.

We are human, and as such, limited by our own perceptions and intelligence. We cannot see beyond our own experience and (limited) ideas. We can’t see what we can’t see. So when we seek quick solutions, these are a) limited to our own knowledge/experience and b) whatever has been retrieved in our minds quickly. In short, the solution we ourselves come up with will be a very small piece of a pie of actual options… and what if those other options in the pie would have been better?

With this in mind, effective and truly-inspirational leaders, who have a long-term solution approach, will know that the key is not to solve the problem. Well, at least not alone. Rather than proposing solutions, they will solicit information and ideas from others. They will know to pull back and let friends, colleagues, and employees chip in. They will know how to listen to others and consider their perspectives. And they will know how to bring together the varying voices, look for common themes, and address different perspectives, to come up with a unified understanding.

And many times, with this approach, the solution arises naturally. Often, when sharing perspectives, the problem just disappears. Two departments at odds will suddenly realize they are on the same page. Siblings fighting will recognize someone’s feelings were hurt. Divorcing couples see where they have some common interests, after all.

This type of (un)solving problems requires two key character traits: patience and listening. (Un)solving means making the time for others to discuss, debate, and just think in silence. It also means listening when that silence ends – really hearing what is being said.

So the next time you are in a position to solve a problem – consider taking a moment to listen. Listen to the different voices in your own head. Listen to advice of others. And listen for what is beyond your comfort-zone. The solution may be radically different than you expected – and maybe your problem disappears entirely, in the process!

For more information, coaching, or workshops on this topic, email me at: [email protected]


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Melody Wang

Melody Wang is a Conflict Consultant with the Harmony Strategies Group and CEO of Wang Mediation, which she founded upon graduation from the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law with an MA in Alternative Dispute Resolution. Melody is a panel mediator for the New York City Family Court and serves on the Board of Directors at the Association for Conflict Resolution, Greater New York (ACR-GNY). Prior to moving to New York, Melody was an experienced civil and community mediator in Los Angeles, California, working closely with non-profits, small claim courts and the California federal court. She also led selected trainings and workshops on dispute resolution within the Asian-American community in California.  Melody has lived in the U.S., Taiwan, China and Singapore, is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese, and especially enjoys engaging in international relations and cross-cultural conflict systems.

Dara Rossi

Dara Rossi, Ph.D. is a Conflict & Strategy Consultant with the Harmony Strategies Group. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field of education and has worked with students from kindergarten through the university graduate level. Additionally, she has facilitated professional development for educators and administrators across all points on the education continuum. After10 years of service in the Department of Teaching and Learning Southern Methodist University, she launched her coaching and consulting business while continuing to serve as an adjunct professor. She holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, an MBA, an MA in Dispute Resolution, and an MAT in Education, and BS in Human Development.

Isar Mahanian

Isar Mahanian, M.Sc. is a Conflict & Strategy Consultant with the Harmony Strategies Group. She is an active mediator who coaches new mediators in the program in which she serves. Isar has worked at a fast-paced technology start-up as the Head of Human Resources, leading senior executives to mitigate and resolve workplace conflicts and creating system level improvements for employees within the company. She holds a Master’s of Science degree in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University. 

Kimberly Jackson Davidson

Kimberly Jackson Davidson is currently the University Ombudsperson at George Mason University and member of the Harmony Strategies Group. She spent two decades at Oberlin College in Ohio, holding positions in the Office of the Dean of Students and as Visiting Lecturer in African American Studies. During her final five and a half years there, she served all campus constituencies as Ombudsperson and Director of the Yeworkwha Belachew Center for Dialogue (YBCD). Davidson is active within the International Ombuds Association (IOA), the California Caucus of College and University Ombuds (CCCUO), and the Ombuds Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR). She earned a B.A. in English Literature from Spelman College in 1986 and an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in African Literature in 1991.

Hector Escalante

Hector Escalante is an experienced Ombuds and learning and development professional with over seven years of ombuds experience and over twenty years of experience developing and teaching course offerings which promote inclusion, healthy communication, and conflict resolution. He is the Director of the Ombuds Office at the University of California, Merced, having served many years as the organizational ombuds at the University of the Pacific. He is an ombuds partner with Harmony Strategies Group, and a consulting ombuds for Earthjustice and Union of Concerned Scientists.  Hector holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education. He is a United States Marine Corps veteran, a husband and father to four children. Hector’s passions include treating all with fairness, equity, dignity, and compassion and good food. 

Stuart Baker

Stuart Baker is a heart-centered strategic consultant with the Harmony Strategies Group. He makes use of all his experience in the construction industry, mediation and presenting, combined with years of spiritual pursuit, to offer a unique and broad sensitivity in his consulting work. He loves helping people deepen their harmony and connection with others, and with themselves. We are honored to have Mr. Stuart Baker on our team, pioneer of “Conscious Cooperation” – his book can be ordered here

Kira Nurieli

Kira Nurieli is the CEO of the Harmony Strategies Group and is an expert mediator, conflict coach, trainer/facilitator, consultant, and restorative practices facilitator. She has spent upwards of twenty years helping clients handle conflict and improve communication strategies and has presented at numerous conferences and symposia as a subject matter expert. She holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Performance from Barnard College. She especially enjoys helping individuals, teams, and lay-leaders become more impactful and empowered in their work and is honored to work alongside her esteemed colleagues with the Harmony Strategies Group.

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