Written by: James Ponds
Human beings are natural problem solvers, but as anyone who has ever given birth can tell you, just because something is natural doesn't mean that it is easy. Problems are inevitable in the workplace, and if you are a leader, it is your responsibility to find a solution with the help of your team.
Here are some useful techniques for making the process easier:
1. Obtain the Tools You Need
Many people are conflict-averse to some degree, but it is possible to make yourself and your workplace competent to handle conflict. An advanced degree, such as a master of public policy, can provide you with the necessary tools if you are really serious about becoming a more effective problem solver or it is a prerequisite for your career. However, leadership workshops and seminars are sufficient for most people to learn the necessary skills.
2. Change Your Perspective
What you believe about a problem is likely to influence your perception of it. If you approach a problem thinking of it as an insurmountable barrier, you may defeat your purpose before you even begin. On the other hand, if you look at it as a challenging puzzle or an opportunity to improve the status quo, the problem becomes much less intimidating.
3. Take Your Time
You may impose pressure on yourself to solve the problem correctly the first time. This can be paralyzing and self-defeating. If the problem is complex, it requires a good deal of your time and attention. A snap decision may be even worse than no decision at all. Give yourself sufficient opportunity to thoroughly explore the problem.
4. Gather Your Team
You may have the primary responsibility for solving the problem, but that doesn't mean that you have to figure it out entirely by yourself. You have a team at your disposal, and each member brings his or her own experience and point of view to the table. Foster open and honest communications among your team members, listen to each of them, and guide the discussion so that it stays on topic.
5. Understand Everyone's Interests
Conflict arises when different interests are in opposition with one another. Understanding the position of those on all sides of the conflict and what is at stake for each of them is a key to arriving at an acceptable resolution. It is a challenge to satisfy everyone. You will likely have to make some compromises, and no one is likely to receive everything they want. Your goal should be to ensure that all parties end up with what they need.
6. Identify and Evaluate the Options
The identification stage is the point in the process in which you ask your team members to throw out any suggestions and ideas that they have in the interest of resolving the problem. Not all of the ideas will be workable, but they still have value because they may suggest one that is.
Once you and your team have thought of all the ideas that you can and you have them all gathered together, now is the time to evaluate them and see what will work and what won't. This is the point to be critical, but it is important to still be constructive. Be honest when identifying the advantages and disadvantages associated with each plan.
7. Consider Contingencies
Even once you have a good, workable plan, circumstances may arise that prevent you from putting it into action. You should anticipate these ahead of time and make back-up plans to deal with contingencies when and if they come into play.
8. Document Your Decision
You don't necessarily have to keep records of the entire process, but you should definitely write down the final decision. This not only helps you work out any remaining details, but it also serves as a reference later when you put the plan into action.
Problem-solving in the workplace is not always a clear-cut, step-by-step process. Don't feel as though you are going backward if you have to go back and repeat a step. This may be just a curve on the upward spiral.