By Candie Harris
Problems and workplaces go
hand-in-hand. No matter the size of the company, the scope of the dilemma,
problems are as inescapable in the workplace as well, work. While problems cropping
up may be beyond your control, problem-solving
is firmly within your grasp.
Albert Einstein's theory of relativity
may be difficult to fully comprehend, but his problem-solving advice is easy to
follow. "We can't solve problems by using the
same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Now that's genius!
So switch off problem solving auto-pilot
and stop blindly trying to move through or around the problem. Take time to
analyze how and why the problem popped up and prepare to address it
step-by-step. Appreciate that the problem presents the opportunity to become an
effective problem solver.
First step, examine the anatomy of a
problem. In the workplace, common causes are co-worker conflict, customer
dissatisfaction, process dysfunction and mechanical failure. Could it be a
combination of factors?
Once you have clearly identified the
root problem(s), it's time for action. Positive action. Do not fall into the
trap of hoping a problem will go away, looking for someone (else) to blame or
rushing to come up with the right solution immediately. This is key. Solutions
do not belong at the beginning of the problem solving process but at the
end. So take time to get it right.
Problem Solving 101
Ready to tackle your problem? Make sure you and other participants have allowed emotions
to cool and are ready to work dispassionately.
Step back and try to see the bigger
picture. Make a candid assessment of what
if any role you may have played in creating the problem.
Pinpoint the issues at stake. Field
and clarify different perspectives from all actors. The goal is to find a solution that satisfies everyone's interests.
Activate your listening skills. Engage in active listening, offering physical and/or verbal
signs that you understand and appreciate what people are saying to you. Put aside any perceived
or real differences and listen with the goal of truly understanding.
Evaluate and select the best solution. Collaborate with your problem solving peers to
ensure the solution is the best possible. Is there one best solution, or can
several options be "bundled" together to form a solution meeting a broad number
Brainstorm solutions. Employ creativity (and patience) in finding the point (or
points) of mutual interest. Carefully assess whether a solution really meets
the need of your interests. Too often,
people become attached to one particular solution, at the expense of their
At Esselte manufacturing facilities
around the globe, we often use "Try-Storming" to identify options. Try-Storming is brainstorming with a
twist; ideas are quickly generated and tested rather than slowly developed and
analyzed. The process has three basic principles: 1) It is not important to
create perfect solutions; 2) Be action-oriented and 3) Keep solutions simple.
Delineate the solution in a written
agreement. Memory can be faulty. Outlining
the solution in written form also helps participants to think through all the
implications. And the document serves as a touchstone for review on an ongoing
basis to ensure needs are still being met.
problem solving is a skill that is required on an on-going basis both at work
and in life. Becoming disciplined about your problem-solving process will yield
positive solutions and lessen your stress and unease about tackling workplace
troubles. So the next time a problem arises at work, take a deep breath and
know that you are armed with the tools to tackle it head on.
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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.