The power of shifting the conversation from who is wrong to what went wrong

I dedicate this post to my wife who is the source of this insight, this conversation.

The default: one party is good/right, the other party is bad/wrong

When conversations, actions, events and relationships don’t work out as we want or expect them to work out what happens?  Look carefully and you will find that the default is that we look to figure out who is wrong.  And from there we go and label some person/group as bad/wrong and another person/group as good/right.  If we are one of the parties to the upset/conflict then we end up declaring ourselves as good/right and the other person as bad/wrong.

Even as an observer, if you listen to one of the parties to the conflict sharing his story, his take on the situation, the temptation and the default way of being is to want to work out who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad. Even as an observer we get drawn into and cannot resist taking sides.  And in taking sides we validate one person and invalidate the other – usually without even hearing the others side of the story.

How does this default way of being/showing up in the world tend to work out?  My experience is that it does not tend to work out.  Taking sides  – labelling one person ‘good’ / ‘right’ and the other ‘bad’ / ‘wrong’ just perpetuates the myth: some people are ‘good’ and some people are ‘bad’. And it keeps us stuck in the existing context which says that ‘bad’ results are the result of ‘bad ‘people.

Creating an ‘extraordinary’ context for dealing with that which shows up and which does not please us

Leaving aside evil people and I am clear there are evil people – they tend to be labelled psychopaths – is there value in operating from a context of whole-complete-perfect?  What do I mean?  What would become available if we acted as if each person is whole-complete-perfect?  Put differently, what would become available if you/I operated from a context that each person is doing what shows up for him/her as reasonable, as good, as right?

What my wife and I have noticed is that if we operate from this context then we have a powerful way to deal with the upsets and conflicts that show up in our lives as we go about in the world.  How exactly?

Operating from a context of each person is being rational/reasonable given how the world show up for him/her we can ask the question that is almost never asked:  how is it that two (or more) reasonable people ended up creating this undesirable situation/outcome?  Put differently, we focus on the question of what went wrong and not who is wrong.

What we have found is that when we relate to people as whole-complete-perfect and focus on what went wrong we get powerful insights that enable us to:

  • deal effectively with what went wrong;
  • figure out how exactly (step by step) it ended up working out the way that it worked out;
  • generate insight and affinity with the people who are involved in the events unfolding as they have unfolded; and
  • prevent the reoccurrence of that which occurred and left all parties unhappy, resentful, frustrated, angry and even violent.

Summing up

If you want to be powerful in the way that you show up in the world for yourself and for the people with/around you then:

  • shift the context from ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people to everyone is ‘whole-complete-perfect’; AND
  • shift the conversation from who is wrong to what went wrong – how is it that events turned out this way given the good intentions of all parties.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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