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Focus on Solutions, Not Finger Pointing

by on February 20, 2018 4:30 AM

There is an old adage that says “When you point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Perhaps we should all consider that before we decide to run our mouths, put an insensitive post on social media, or fire off the angry email or letter to a colleague or supervisor.

Spending too much of our time and resources finger pointing and placing blame, instead of focusing on solving problems, usually results in “kicking the can down the road” and negative energy that creates emotional overreactions. Our critical thinking skills suddenly take a back seat to our emotions and egos, and the next thing we know, we are avoiding colleagues and friends, or embroiled in a nasty argument that could have been avoided. Finger pointing doesn’t produce any value-added results.

Heaven knows I have sabotaged myself over the years, both personally and professionally, by pointing the finger and reacting without thinking. I would jokingly rationalize it by saying, “Well, that’s the emotional Italian in me.” That is, in part, true, as I am a AAA personality and card-carrying member of the “Feather Rufflers Society.”  However, it does not excuse me from allowing my emotions to get the best of me. Take a moment to reflect on your own memories of when you decided to give someone the silent treatment or pass the buck, and chose to point the finger.

It does not matter if you are an extrovert who loves to comment on just about everything, or an introvert who keeps it all bottled up inside of you until it builds up and becomes one out--of-character eruption of negativity. These emotional rants rarely help your cause or solve a problem. Likewise, if you suddenly decide to give someone the professional brush off and ignore them intentionally then you are also a part of the problem and not the solution.

Oh, yes, I understand that there are times when we choose to ream someone out in front of the group to “send a message” for dramatic purposes, as that was the way many of us thought was the right way to coach, lead, or manage. I do believe that authentic emotions, even displays of anger or frustration, are not only avoidable at times, but they may even be effective in the right context on some rare occasions. But, just like giving your team at work or your athletic teams too many rote pump-up speeches, flying off the handle with rage and ripping into someone on a regular basis will likely result in people tuning you out and seeking to avoid you at all costs.

I speak from experience and found out the hard way that it must be dealt with in an intentional and deliberate way. In my case, I sought out professional assistance for my anger issues and have embraced the “one day at a time” strategy for improvement. While I will likely never be “cured,” it has certainly altered how I look at things. It makes me think more critically before reverting back to my old “Mount Vesuvius eruptions at any moment” days.

I recently read a 2015 Inc. article on emotional intelligence by Justin Bariso, founder of Insight, that talked about what you should think about before blurting out a response.

On the topic of “The 3 Vital Questions,” Bariso wrote:

"I discovered this brilliant strategy through an unlikely source. I was watching an interview with comedian and television personality Craig Ferguson, when he gave some very sage advice.

There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything.

Does this need to be said?

Does this need to be said by me?

Does this need to be said by me now?

Ferguson says it took him three marriages to learn that lesson."

I have certainly struggled with the idea of shouting praise, while whispering criticism. Especially as a coach, I had the shouting praise part down to a science, but forgot too often to take a player or an employee into a private area to have the harder, constructive criticism discussion. We athletic coaches could get away with that in our minds because it was the conventional wisdom and it was the way many of us were coached, so hey, nothing wrong with it, right?

Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. By no means do I believe we need to be “soft” on people. Holding people accountable is needed now more than ever as a lack of self-discipline and entitled dependence are rampant in our society.  It is the way the message is delivered that I believe needs to change.

All you have to do is look at where we are today in this country on politics, fake news, the economy, education, gun laws and healthcare to see the public anger being spewed back and forth as one side blames the other. While we are all being distracted by the daily drama of who is to blame, we continue to waste our energy pointing fingers instead of working together to find real solutions.

Those of you old enough to remember the TV show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” may recall the sarcasm-drenched “Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award” that was routinely given out on the show to a real-life person who was caught in public in some dubious act. While these cynical, comedic sketches gave us some great laughs, it is certainly frustrating to see we have made so little progress in society and in many ways have gotten worse. How about we start handing out awards for those who join hands in a collaborative effort to be better?

It is easy to point the finger at social media and blame young people for what we perceive to be their fault for all that ails us. I’m not buying it because we Baby Boomers helped create whatever mess we choose to bellyache about without finding many solutions. So let’s get over ourselves, accept responsibility and start spending our time on the fix.

Here is something to consider that we can all work on: Stop pointing the finger and start lending a hand. Be a part of the solution instead of creating more problems. I think the result will be lot more progress for everyone.


Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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