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Diffusing Family Politics Through Issue-Based Problem Solving


B4B content contributor Matt writes on tactical solutions to problems we all face that are a bit broader than Big 4 firm specifics. These articles will help you work on your internal ‘operating system’ so that you can become a healthier, wealthier, and wiser person. 

At your next social gathering I challenge you to ask the following question to the oldest person at the table: “Should the Affordable Care Act be repealed?”

family gathering

Now what would happen? Almost every time I’ve tried this amongst my own social settings a bunch of political experts would appear and they would fight to the death about finding one answer. After two distinct groups emerged and wanted to strangle each other, we’d come to an “agree to disagree” standstill then go back to quiet until the next blowup.

But what really happened? Why did everyday people turn into political experts and fight to the death about what was the “right” way? Because both parties fell right into my brain trap. I know it was quite mean, but I couldn’t resist. By asking this question I knew two things would happen. I knew they would chase one path with unquestioning allegiance. Republicans jumped on why it wouldn’t work, democrats jumped on why it would, yet as every side talked an answer became further and further away. I also knew everyday people who watched Fox and MSNBC before bed would turn into the President’s private counsel with each side proposing convincing facts yet distancing further from a solution.

Why? We’re slaves to our own bias and cognitive laziness.



What I really knew was that although the Greek philosopher Socrates said, “I know one thing; that I know nothing”, our brain doesn’t agree. It always needs to have an answer, and generally the less it knows of the topic the stronger argument it will have. Why such a counter-intuitive process? Because it runs off of avoiding cognitive strain rather than finding the optimal solution. This means pulling from the most recent facts and creating an argument around those facts instead of absorbing all different angles and creating a non-biased stance. If we opened up the hood we would technically see four heuristics pulling the strings in this debate.

  • Confirmation/ Prior Hypothesis Bias: Seeking data to confirm rather than refute your already held beliefs.
  • Availability Bias: Recalling importance to the easiest to recall data rather than the most influential data.
  • Anchoring: Working from a place already set versus creating your own starting point. For example, if I said the price was $100, we would negotiate with that $100 as an anchor. Thus every offer following would be compared to this $100, but what if the real value was $10?
  • Plunging-In: Diving into solving one problem instead of if it is the right problem. For example, my question started at the point of if the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. What if there were a deeper question such as if the government should be in healthcare?

Unfortunately for you I understood these heuristics before asking and framed the question to entice this cognitive laziness. I started by picking a really polarizing and relevantly timed question with little room for compromise. This anchored you to take a side while alarming your confirmation bias to confirm my anchor. Since it was timed when this debate is front and center, it also gave very available data from whichever news source one watches. I then, in what could be the most evil trick, picked a very narrow question. Instead of something broad such as, “What’s the best solution to healthcare”, I jumped straight to the narrow hot button of the Affordable Care Act. This forced you to take an extremely narrow path according to the “plunging-in” heuristic.

Charles Barkley once said, “sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train”. Unfortunately I led you right in front of this train, as what occurred was a perfect storm of bias and tunnel vision. I basically told your brain to take a little nap and let your heuristics have fun. Then I sat back and watched my prediction play out as planned.

Unfortunately this “train-wreck” isn’t exclusive to politics. Who here has turned on sports radio the morning after a big game? You’ll hear millions of people who all of a sudden are hall of fame coaches. They knew the exact plays that should have been called, the exact players that should have played, and unleash this criticism as if they were the Supreme Court addressing the executives of Enron. Where were they when the head coaching jobs were taking interviews?


So how can we avoid the upcoming holiday blowup? By honing in our heuristics and cognitive bias through a concept called Issue Based Problem Solving (IBPS). Commonly used in management consulting, IBPS replaces cognitive bias with logic and structure by breaking down problem-solving into tangible and objective steps.For the “full” application of it check out a full report from Accenture here.

Solution: replace cognitive bias with logic and structure by breaking down problem solving into tangible and objective steps.

For the sake of saving holidays we’ll bring up one aspect of it, the SCQ framework (Situation → Complication → Question). In this framework, you simply ask five questions before moving any further.

If you’re talking about a client, those questions are:

  • Where is the client now?
  • Where does the client want to be?
  • Why do they want to be there?
  • What is stopping them – hurdles, constraints, etc.?
  • What are the tradeoffs?


If we were to re-ask the question, “Should the Affordable Care Act be repealed”, instead of jumping down one path, we’d step back and ask:

  • Where is healthcare now?
  • Where do we want healthcare to be in the future? What is this time horizon?
  • Why do we want healthcare to be here? What are our intentions? Our motivations?
  • What’s stopping it from being there right now?
  • What are the trade-off’s of wanting this?  

Do you see how instead of chasing the rabbit hole we step back and lay down a non-biased foundation? Hopefully this avoids the inevitable political war at the holiday table this year!

There is much more to the IBPS framework, including applications outside of family politics. We covered only a slice of it here, but if you would like to fully implement this check out my upcoming book here.


If not, enjoy a holiday like this video!


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