Problem Solving at Work (Part II)

Published Thursday, May 13, 2010 9:37 AM

My last post discussed why problems arise in the workplace and how we typically deal with them when they do. In this post, we will take a closer look at the problem solving process.

"Nothing gives one so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."

A article on resolving conflict at work cites this Thomas Jefferson quote to point up the importance of keeping calm, cool and collected in the face of a problem. As the article notes, we need to step back and try to see the bigger picture. This perspective-taking includes a candid appraisal of what we might have done/be doing to fuel the issue.

Once you - and everyone else involved - have settled down, you can address the problem step-by-step. As an initial step, it is important to pinpoint the issues by fielding and clarifying different perspectives. A next step is to brainstorm solutions that satisfy everyone's interests. To find the point (or points) of mutual interest, you need some patience and creativity. You also need good active listening skills. When you engage in active listening, you offer physical and/or verbal signs that you understand and appreciate what people are saying to you. Make direct eye contact, nod your head and say "OK, go on" or "I understand."  Clarity of understanding is critical here, you may even need to repeat back, "This is what I understand and heard you say, " ---- " is that correct?"  

Once you have some possible solutions on the table, you must collaborate to evaluate and select the best option or options. To facilitate this part of the process, you can answer several key questions set out in this article on How to Become an Effective Problem Solver:

  • How many options do you have?
  • Which options seem reasonable?
  • Have you weighed the pros and cons of your options?
  • Are there any limitations to your options?
  • Are some options better than others? If so, why?
  • Are there advantages and disadvantages you need to take into consideration?

One added technique working well for us at our Esselte manufacturing facilities around the globe is "Try-Storming" our options.  By using mock-ups and simulations built of various raw materials, we give the team a better, more realistic view of the success of their idea.  This process takes mistakes and time out of the problem solving life cycle and shortens the lead time to successful outcomes.

After weighing the options and deciding on a solution, you should memorialize the solution in a written agreement. According to this article on problem solving in the workplace, any agreement should include provisions for revisiting your solution on an ongoing basis to ensure that it still meets your needs.

If you use a problem-solving process at work, we want to know about it. Please share it with us here or on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

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Beyond FoldersTM is written by a team of Pendaflex associates passionate about time management, communications, productivity and workplace organization.  Believing in  "continuous improvement" on both a personal and professional level, they share their unique perspectives on subjects of common interest to our readers.

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