Recently, someone I know had a dispute with their neighbour over the common fence that separates their properties. The fence blew down in a storm. Because of faulty thinking, what should have been a clear-cut situation degenerated into a cold war.

Faulty thinking can seriously impede our ability to perceive, understand and tackle problems. It can turn an otherwise straightforward problem into a big ugly mess, engendering helplessness and blame.

Faulty thinking can reveal itself through certain repeated patterns of behaviour.

Distractions – Loss of Focus

Distractions add unnecessary variables to the problem at hand. This makes the real problem harder to solve, and can mislead the parties to solving the wrong problem altogether.
Some of the distractions in the fence situation were:

  • The parties started comparing their different insurance policies. One of the party then decided to try and game their insurance company to reduce their excess payments. This added to their stress levels, brought a third party into the dicussions, and changed/delayed decisions. It also created a sense of unfairness. None of these issues have anything to do with the broken fence.
  • Instead of fixing the fence with the same material, which is clearly outlined as the default position in the city’s by-laws, the parties started discussing alternative fencing materials, which introduced new variables and decisions.
  • One party was keen to get a friend of a friend of their’s, who is a retired handyman, to repair the fence. Had they proceeded with this option, it could create new problems with their insurance companies, or if the uninsured/unlicensed handyman were to be injured.

Emoting – Loss of Rationality

When strong emotions are triggered, they can crowd out rational thinking. We become reactive, and things become increasingly personal. We lose sight of the outcome, and the problem becomes one of being right, or point scoring.

  • With all the additional variables to consider, discussions increasing went nowhere. Decisions were changed, and frustration inevitably ensued. Words were said and hurts were perceived. One party was suddenly wronged and felt victimised. And the problem thus became one of “I am offended by what you said and now I won’t discuss anything, and ignore all communications, until you apologize or somehow make up for what you said to me.”
  • More fuel was added to the fire when one party started on personal accusations. “You should have propped up the fence when you saw cracks last year.” “You are wasting my time.” And so on.

There is simply no easy way to resolve such personalised issues!

Childish behaviour

Faulty thinking often manifests as childish behaviour such as resistance and avoidance. These are commonly used by children when they cannot get their way, and where they are unwilling or unable to compromise.

In another circumstance with different personalities, aggression and violence could also be the result.

Counteracting these behaviours require self-awareness and the ability to draw and maintain healthy boundaries. What are my personal issues and feelings that need to stay personal?

A lack of clarity about the desired outcome also fuels confusion and distress. What are we really trying to achieve here? What is adding unnecessary issues to the mix? How do we keep action steps simple, unambiguous and directly focused on achieving the outcome?

The fence issue was finally resolved when one party quietly capitulated to an early agreement. This agreement was communicative to the other party via the fencing contractor, thus allowing the capitulating party to “win” by maintaining their righteous stance of not talking to the person who wronged them!