What’s Not Working vs What’s Wrong

In the last post I wrote about focusing on what goes right instead of what goes wrong. Later, I remembered reading something when I was still trying to figure out what being happy looked like for me without changing jobs. The gist of the article was that focusing on what’s going wrong instead of what’s going right is what’s wrong with today’s business culture.

Ok, besides the irony of that topic, I remember thinking that in some cases focusing on what went wrong is really the best thing you can do. And you know what, I was wrong!

Let me back up a bit. I was a project manager and computer programmer at that point (yes, I was doing both over the course of my day). A big part of my job was looking what my clients reported wasn’t working with the software and doing one of 3 things: (1) solve/fix it, (2) find a suitable work-around or (3) report the problem to development (and hopefully find a temporary work-around for the client). The very nature of my job was focusing on what WASN’T working.

My thought at the time was if I only focused on what was working my clients would be very unhappy with me and I would quickly be out of a job. And really, who wants either of those things!?

However, there’s a difference between focusing only on what’s going wrong and focusing on what’s not working. I’m deliberately using separate words for each because the difference is what you focus on.

Let me explain. There’s a difference between having a leak in your roof and getting really upset that there’s a leak in your roof. The difference is your reaction. Having a leak in your roof is a fact; there’s a problem with the roof and you probably want to fix it. Getting upset that there’s a leak in the roof is an emotion you naturally have AND can decide to not have.

So, in my previous job things that weren’t working with the software were facts; this isn’t working as desired (or designed) and needed to be fixed. If my reaction was to be upset that I had to deal will all this stuff that wasn’t working (which I often did) then I could change that by focusing on what was going right.

Now, at first glance this could be a difficult task. After all, it was rare for me to hear about how well something was working. However, at some point I stopped being so frustrated by each problem that was reported and instead each new problem was just that – a new problem – and not something to get upset about. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but I do know it took a bit of work on my part.

So, what did I do?

  1. I decided to stop complaining. Complaining wasn’t making me feel better and it usually wasn’t venting. So, I decided to stop. And when I found myself complaining I did one of two things:
    1. Go immediately to the solution. This looks like: I’m really upset that this problem is still happening AND I’m going to talk to someone in development about a possible work-around. The part before AND is the complaint, the part after is the solution.
    2. Say something nice about the situation or person. This looks like: I’m really upset that this problem is still happening AND Amy is so nice about it on the phone.
  2. Changed the situation to better match my skills. Eventually my position changed and I was no longer a project manager. This was a great relief to me. I still worked on finding the solutions or work-arounds (what I really liked to do and was good at), and someone else took the phone calls and emails from the clients (I was good at it, but really liked problem solving better). Part of my frustration with getting calls or emails of new problems was it interrupted me when I was working on a solution to an existing problem – because someone else talked with the client – I was able to focus on one problem at a time.

What are things you’ve done when you’ve found yourself in a job that at first glance seems to be one that only focuses on what’s not working?

Photo credit: HA1 by Highways Agency via Flickr