Uncle George is a problem

Just before Christmas I heard a psychiatrist taking talkback calls about Christmas.

One caller – let’s call her Martha – wanted to talk about family. Martha hosted Christmas lunch each year. It was huge, she invited all of her extended family. And Martha loved it. She loved the tradition. She loved that it was the one time of the year that grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandchildren gathered to spend the day together.

Well Martha loved most of it, but there was one problem.

The problem was Uncle George.

Apparently, Uncle George arrived each Christmas day with a six-pack and a bottle of whisky. Uncle George enjoyed his food but he enjoyed his beverages even more. Each year he would take his place at the table and proceed to get gleefully and obnoxiously drunk. With the drink came the insults.

The day usually culminated with Uncle George lying face down in his Christmas pudding.

This chain of events always caused Martha much grief. Martha asked the psychiatrist what she could do to change Uncle George’s behaviour.

Interestingly, the psychiatrist said Uncle George didn’t have a problem. Uncle George was absolutely consistent in his behaviour. Year after year, he did exactly the same thing. Everyone knew what to expect and what their role in the performance would be.

The psychiatrist suggested it was Martha who had the problem. Knowing what was going to happen, and knowing it was going to cause her grief, but not taking the responsibility to devise strategies to change the situation made it her problem.

It was about owning and then solving the problem.

We all have Uncle Georges. It may be a recalcitrant client. It may be an unreliable supplier. Or it could be a colleague that ‘doesn’t like mornings’. The start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to identify ‘your Uncle George problem’ and come up with a solution.

Avoiding it and getting stressed when it happens again doesn’t make sense.

Carol Mackay


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Carol is a designer and co-founder (with Greg Branson) of the Design Business Council, an organisation advocating design and its role in a successful and sustainable business, and the Design Business School. Together they are working towards the 2019 Business of Design Week

Carol’s design career focussed on helping the financial, legal, insurance, superannuation and service sectors use design to add clarity to their often complex message. She now uses the same skills to help business understand design, and designers understand business. Contact Carol for more information.

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