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How to Become a Problem-Solver at Work


We love to complain. In 2013, an article from The New York Times revealed that of customers who bought a product and were dissatisfied with it, 95 percent would not complain to the company, but would express their discontent to 10 or 15 friends. Unless one of those friends was on the quality control team at that company, that probably isn’t going to solve any problems for future buyers. We treat our jobs the same way, and unless we learn how to become real problem solvers, it will only hurt us in the long run.

rosie the riveter 

(Photo Credit: Great Grandpa & Grandma T/Flickr)

The truth is there’s not much to becoming a better problem solver, but it’s about being willing to tackle the problem head on. If you have a problem feeling overwhelmed by challenges at work, use this as a guide to changing your paradigm. In the end, you’ll find yourself happier, more productive, and more excited by those challenges rather than so stressed.

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Get Off The Bench

According to a study from Michigan State University, the kind of workplace negativity associated with these problem identifiers goes so far as to affect quality of life and productivity in an office. If all we’re doing is standing around talking about the problems, we’re not just not solving them: we’re actually making them worse.

Rather than being what Entrepreneur calls a “problem identifier,” someone who simply calls out the issue, be someone who is actively pursuing solutions — instead of excuses. Per that article, start by determining the scope of the problem, staying objective, and frame the problem in the form of solutions.

Nip It in the Bud

Have you ever seen an old acquaintance while out one day, and after chatting for a little while, decided you should “get coffee soon” — only to never follow through on plans? Oftentimes, unless we make plans on the spot, they’re going to get overpowered by life’s myriad other demands.

In this case, you’re going to get overwhelmed by plenty of other responsibilities of your job, and it’s going to make sweeping the problem of the day under the rug that much more tempting. Instead, start by asking what Six Sigma calls the 5 Whys. Start with the surface issue, and continue to ask “Why?” until you get to the root cause. When you understand the root, you can start to rip it up before it wraps itself around other healthy parts of your company.

Move On

For real problem solvers, the occasional bump in the road is just that. You’re going to have to deal with a lot of uncomfortable issues that you don’t want to, but if you want to be your most productive, happy self, then you have to be willing to take problems as they come in stride. Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed, focus on the solution, and then move on to the next one.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your go-to strategy for problem solving? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter.

Peter Swanson
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