Drama-free zone

              When things are moving too slow... what should you do? Slow down.

              This counter intuitive wisdom will make sense to you shortly, and hopefully it can guide you towards giving support to more sustainable projects.

              Let's say you are working on a project in a new area. You are pushing things ahead, and helping people get things done... but you are constantly frustrated by the slow pace of progress. 

              People generally seem to deal with situations like this in two ways: 1) They push even harder, try more things, and become more involved and more hands on. The risk here is that the project might be established and become successful in the short term, but will fizzle when you are no longer around to drive things. Or 2) They tune out and find different projects to support. Neither approach is good for the potential beneficiaries of the project. 

              Perhaps the sober approach is to do the latter, but keep the door open to those involved so that you can support them when they're ready, but a better approach would be to slow down - and spend more time doing non-project related things, with those involved. If something draws you to a project like this, this would be your best avenue for discovering new dimensions and opportunities, or plotting a better, more in-step path forward, if your end goal is to foster independence. 

              If you are a researcher, we would encourage you to understand the spirit and methodologies of Action Research, and to embrace it, in short: Neither the problem, nor the solution, is not what you think it is, and only in walking in the shoes of those who experience it, with them, you will you be able to find, define and research it better, and co-create solutions that can be tested.

              If you work for a funding organization, look into Utilization-focused evaluation (UFE). If practiced properly this will allow you develop, find and collect more relevant metrics or KPI's for your projects, and in the long run improve the impact of your funding.

              Tips for dealing with problems and drama effectively.

              If you find yourself surrounded by drama, the easiest solution is to just remove yourself from the situation and to find or create a better situation or environment. If this is a recurring theme in a sector of your life, then either one of two things are true: 1) You seek out difficult situations or people to work with or 2) You are the source and you must learn and practice to talk more calmly, listen more carefully and respect and consider others more deeply. 

              That said, most environments, especially where stress and volunteering is involved, involve some level of drama. Some people create drama purely through the sheer force of their high and unrealistic expectations of others. Then there are also the truly malevolent people who are practiced at creating drama in order to gain an advantage or to get what they want at the expense of everyone else. Even so, consider Hanlon's razor: never blame malevolence on that which can be explained by incompetence. Do not let the malevolent hide behind the incompetent either. One thing is certain: you can not fight fire with fire, and there is always a better way.

              Here are some questions you can ask and things you can look out for that can help you get to to the bottom of the source of drama in any situation.

              Who are the stakeholders?
              What does each stakeholder sand to gain or lose? (Consider status as a goal too)
              What is the solution?
              Is there a simpler solution?
              Who has the power to enact it?
              Has it been tried? (If so, are things different now?)
              Can it be tried differently? (Is there someone else who can facilitate or help?)
              Where can I find more information?
              What information is readily available?
              Is it worth the time I am investing to find more information?
              Have all the parties been contacted personally?
              Am I (or someone) being manipulated?
              Is it possible that there is a hidden agenda?
              What is acknowledged by each party?
              What is denied by each party?
              What has already been done?
              How did each party achieve their status?
              Is everything in character?
              Do any of the parties deserve the benefit of the doubt?
              What does the benefit of the doubt look like?

              Some basic principles that you can't go wrong with, are:

              Don't name / blame or get personal.
              Consider the track record of each involved.
              Always remember: you do not know what is happening in someone else's life. They might have just lost a loved one, or have been the victim of a crime.
              Don't acknowledge or deny any accusations in a mutual setting where people will be forced to pick sides, before taking the time to discuss the issues in private one on one conversations, as getting more affected people involved will just complicate things further.

              Try to look at yourself objectively. Explain the situation to a therapist, or an AI, and ask them to be critical of you. Make and take the time to consider their criticisms. Read books about negotiation or how to deal with difficult people. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, and explore different motives. Do not sell yourself short, however: turning the other cheek does not mean what most people think it does - in context it amounts to ensuring that the other party knows deeply what they are doing.

              If this is a high stakes disagreement where each party stands to lose a significant amount of time or money, then you should consult the mediation and arbitration clauses in any contracts that you've entered into. A skilled mediator will be able to navigate you through steps and questions similar to the above to avoid a legal dispute. If you don't have a contract, make clear you set yourself a short time line for resolving the issue, after which you walk away and start over, learning from your mistakes. Contracts don't fix things, but it is a communication tool that you can fall back on when routine communication starts to become problematic. 

              Sometimes you can let things slide and sometimes you have to nip in in the bud as soon as possible. Some things escalate with time, and some things de-escalate naturally. How do you know which is which? That is a thought for a future post. When in doubt, err on the side of dealing with things right away, but using non accusatory language, simply explaining your challenge and asking for suggestions for a better solution. 

              As with war, in law there are no winners, only two or more losing parties, and too often the one who spends the most money on lawyers is the one who wins. Don't let things escalate to that by making sure that there is a lot of de-escalating activities, such as frequent phone calls and communications, non-work-focused events and social events where there is a shared incentive to do things together and to get to get to know each other in a different context.

              Long travel times can be a blessing in disguise: use it for one on one time with individuals. Keep quiet until your travel partner starts talking, keep the conversation going, and you may be surprised to learn that there is a lot more going on than you might be aware of or have considered.