Problems aren’t avoidable. They crop up every day and sometimes in the most unexpected places. Despite their frequent nature, most people could be better equipped when it comes to adequately dealing with problems.
Often the way we deal with problem solving can itself be a problem; compounding rather than resolving the original issue. When faced with a problem, research has shown that people will tend towards one of these three approaches:
- Avoidance Mode: Wishing the problem away and finding ways around it.
- Solution Mode: Jumping to find an immediate and “perfect” solution to quickly resolve the issue.
- Blame Mode: Looking around to blame the problem on someone or something else.
While these three responses are tempting and understandable, mainly because most people tend to avoid rather than put themselves into situation which is potentially confrontational and uncomfortable, they are not helpful.
Enabling an Opportunity
Problems provide us with an opportunity to re-examine and realign something. They force us to look at things differently and re-evaluate our options. Effective problem solving often takes time and patience, but a rushed solution can take even longer to fix. Here are six steps to help you tackle a problem in a way that will also help you better see opportunities and work them into your solution.
6 Steps to Successful Problem Solving
The longer you take to face a problem the bigger it will get in your mind and potentially the more complicated it could become. Trying to forget it or shelve a problem often has the opposite result of it becoming all consuming, such that anxiety is heightened and managing things is increasingly more difficult. STOP! Take courage and time to focus on the problem to see what it actually is. Sometimes the fear of a problem is often worse than the problem itself.
Unless in a life-or-death situation, very seldom do you have to find an instant solution to a problem. Rushing into something, without exercising patience, often leaves room for error and regret. It can also result in additional problems which could have been avoided. A successful solution is often found at the end of the problem-solving process. The first step is to pause and figure out what isn’t working, and why, before you try to fix it.
Albert Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet. I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Ahead of diving into finding a solution, make sure that you have defined the problem and are actually planning on solving the right one. Don’t immobilise yourself by exploring things so thoroughly that you are essentially procrastinating; but rather map things out, on paper if need be, and make sure that you’re dealing with the heart of the issue not a side-line cause or effect. Be clear about the problem and write it down so you can go back to it to prevent being side-tracked or if you lose focus while working on it.
The best solution will be the one that satisfies, or at least attempts to satisfy, everyone’s interests. Often, we get so caught up in our own opinions that we forget that they are not the only ones that count and what we should be doing is listening. This is particularly important when solving problems as a group. Most people’s inclination is to focus on their own desired outcome and not that of the group as a whole. Two benefits of working as a group are that you don’t have to do things alone and given that solutions can arise out of the most unlikely of places, you’re quite likely to find one.
Often there is more than one way to solve a problem. Brainstorm and write down your most ideal solution and desired outcome. Then ask yourself what it would take to get you there. Let the ideas flow, don’t judge them, you can evaluate practicality afterwards. The aim here is to find as many workable solutions as possible. Once done, assess each option. Cross out the impossible ones and highlight the probable options.
Weigh up the pros and cons of each probable solution, looking for the best option in light of each possible way forward. What will get you closest to your most desired outcome? Could it help to combine some of the options? Once you have decided, if you have time, sleep on things and start to work on the problem in the morning. Otherwise, take a short break and go for a walk to clear your head. Taking a break to give yourself time to process things, once you have decided what to do, has been shown to be beneficial to problem solving.
By going through these six steps, you should be able to better see what is actually happening and what is needed to properly resolve the issue. Granted, especially when in the thick of a problem, it can be hard to focus or even see the opportunities being presented. However, a methodical approach is the most likely to your discovering possible opportunities and then being able to incorporate them into your solution.
Problem solving is an essential life skill which can improve circumstances by giving us an opportunity to re-examine and realign things while we exercise grit. Consequently, as often as possible, problems should be embraced and given the time and attention they deserve. The great thing about these 6 steps is that the more you use them, the easier they will be to use and the more likely they are to be your subconscious starting point when faced with a problem to be solved.