What’s The Difference Between A Problem And A Dilemma? The Merlin Works Spring 2020 Newsletter

What’s The Solution To Work And Family Under Quarantine?

In the past few years, I’ve been asked more and more for training programs dealing with burnout. Organizations are surveying their members and finding many of them are feeling detached, exhausted, and ineffective. And they come to me for my improv-based corporate training to help them begin fixing this problem.

So I started reading about burnout, and specifically about physician burnout, including Dike Drummond’s book Stop Physician Burnout. He has lots of both practical, personal, systemic and spiritual advice in the book. Two things stood out to me the most:

  1. The jobs with the highest rates of burnout are those where people have the most responsibility and the least amount of control. Firefighters, physicians, parents. They have full responsibility, but often, little real influence over the final outcome. This can lead to feelings of detachment, futility, and depersonalization, which are the hallmarks of burnout. Not only do you have lots of important things to do, but it feels like you really can’t get anything done.
  2. There’s a difference between a problem and a dilemma. Problems can be solved. Dilemmas can be managed.

Picking the right platform for your virtual team meeting is a problem. There’s a solution. There may be more than one solution. But you can find an answer, it can work, and you can move on to solve future problems.

Work-life balance is a dilemma. It’s not like you’re going to choose work or life. Or settle on 60% work and 40% life or something like that. There will always be pressures and opportunities that will shape your work-life situation.

Working from home while pivoting your work to exclusively online while homeschooling, and housekeeping is a dilemma. There’s not one thing (or a set of things) that will work every day. Some things will help some days. The same things might fail the next. This new schedule seems perfect! This new app keeps the kids reading…until tomorrow it doesn’t. Today I’m motivated to save my job! Today I feel despondent on the future of work and the economy… Even though nothing seems to change these days, every day is a new challenge. Not one we can figure out once and move on from. But one we have to continually apply creativity and new strategies. (And those strategies might include vegging out.)

The same is true of relationships. You don’t solve a relationship. Interpersonal challenges aren’t completely resolved never to return again. Things are managed. You carry on. You try one thing, then another. You accept some things. Others you cannot.

This is why communication skills and business relationship skills aren’t about scripts. Sure, there are helpful prompts like “When you do this, I feel that.” But there’s not one script to have a perfect conversation. (Or a perfect phone call.) Every conversation, every dynamic is different and must be treated as such. That’s why improv skills can be such a useful tool for teaching communication skills. It gives you a chance to individualize the thing you want to say and make it effective in that moment.

We teach people to go in with a tool belt instead of a script. And often the first step in the plan is getting present, connecting, and listening. The rest, is, well, improvised.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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