The Principle of problem ownership

Principle of Problem Ownership

Since active listening is most important when a person expresses feelings about a problem, it is necessary to ask:  Who owns the Problem?  The principle of problem ownership can be demonstrated in the following situations:

  1. Person A’s needs are not being satisfied by his or her own behaviour, A’s behaviour does not directly interfere with Person B’s satisfaction of his or her own needs. Therefore, A’ owns the problem.
  2. Person A’s needs are being satisfied, but his or her behaviour interferes in some way with Person B’s satisfaction of his or her own needs and thus creates a problem for B. B then owns the problem.
  3. Person A is satisfying his or her own needs, and his or her behaviour does not directly interfere with Person B’s needs. In this case, there is no problem.

Ineffective Approaches

It is necessary for the person who owns the problem to know how to confront it and communicate his or her needs so that other people will listen. However, people frequently confront problems in a way that tends to stimulate defensiveness and resistance.

The two most common approaches:

  1. Evaluating, which communicates judgment, blame ridicule, or shame (“Don’t you know how to use that machine?”; “You are late again!”). This method has several risks:

(a) it makes people defensive and resistant to further communication;

(b) it implies power over the other person; and

(c) it threatens and reduces the other person’s self -esteem.

  1. Sending solutions, which communicates what the other person should do rather than what the speaker is feeling (“If you don’t come in on time, I’ll have to report you”; “Why don’t you do it this way?”). Sending solutions carries risks:

(a) people become resistive if they are told what to do, even if they agree with the solution;

(b) this approach indicates that the sender’s needs are more important than the receiver’s;

(c) it communicates a lack of trust in other people’s capacities to solve their own problems; and,

(d) it reduces the responsibility to define the problem clearly and explore feasible alternatives to a problem.