Problem solving requires two-way communication

Jan. 20 was the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. I was 9 years old when that address was given. His “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” is legendary; perhaps the most-quoted line of the 20th century.Even so, I don’t think I’d ever heard the speech as an adult. So I Googled “JFK Inaugural Address” and a bevy of selections came up instantly. After watching the video twice, I selected another site and read the text of the speech; it was that inspiring.As you may have surmised, I tend to be conservative. Even so, as a kid, President Kennedy was one of my heroes, and one of my cousins was his personal secretary. His assassination was devastating to me. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday.As I grew and began to understand the issues, I became less of a Kennedy fan. And yet, there was absolutely nothing in this speech with which I could disagree.I also watched on YouTube Ted Kennedy Jr.’s eulogy for his father, the late senator from Massachusetts.Now here was a man I could almost never agree with, yet when I listened to his son tearfully describe his father, I still wouldn’t agree with the elder Kennedy, but I had to admire some of the things he did.In his mind, I imagine the senator was trying to be faithful to the tremendous goals his brother set forth in that remarkable inaugural address. His approaches were certainly not the ones I would have chosen, but at least we could agree on the original goals.Meeting in the middleThe “Take 5” column in the Jan. 14-27 issue of NHBR stated a whopping 84 percent of 1,413 workers polled by a Manpower affiliate plan to look for jobs in 2011. To me, that’s a terribly alarming statistic. What have we done?Just about everybody agrees on the goals. We all want to run profitable businesses, to satisfy customers, to increase market share, to develop new products and services to ensure future success. But how we get there is the problem. “The devil is in the details,” as they say.If you don’t believe me, think about this: Do you have anybody working for you who wants to lose money? Do you think some of your employees gleefully think of what they can screw up as they’re brushing their teeth in the morning? Even your would-be retirees want you to have a future for the sake of their pensions, if nothing else. So in business like in government, we rarely disagree on the ultimate goals, but how to get there is another matter.If that 84 percent statistic is representative, we’ve created a terrible mess. With all the unemployed begging for jobs, people who have them want different ones. What does that tell us?A lack of open, honest, two-way communications without fear of retribution may not be the cause of the entire 84 percent who want to look for another job, but I’ll bet it’s a big factor. By itself, it can make an organization a miserable place to work. I doubt any of the managers of the 84 percent think of how miserable they’re going to make their people every morning either, yet it happens.Budgets may be tight, but increasing misery never improves performance. Talking together to see how both sides can improve the lot of the other and achieve the larger goals just might get you somewhere, especially if you are open to different ways of getting there. Don’t defend your position; work together to find the best way.I just wish I had some of that Kennedy rhetoric to dramatize this point a little better.Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham who has had engagements throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871;; or