What do you do when you have a problem at work? Take a page from a professional’s playbook, and follow these steps, which are endorsed by psychologists.
Problem solving refers to the mental process that people go through to discover or recognize, analyze, and solve problems. This includes understanding the problem, deciding to tackle the issue, and choosing which actions to take to solve it. Of course, the ultimate goal of problem solving is to find a solution that best resolves the issue for everyone involved.
Make Sure You Understand the Problem
Dr. Cummins, writing for Psychology Today, stresses the importance of understanding a problem before attempting to solve it. Instead of jumping right in to try out solutions, take a breath and a step back. Think through everything you know about the problem, and organize the information in your mind, or better yet, on paper. For example, if you find yourself constantly missing deadlines, think through the various situations that seem to contribute to your own tardiness. Are you perhaps waiting for a colleague’s contribution to a project? Do you have a routine in the morning that takes a lot of time? Or are you often exhausted? Think it through.
Understand Everyone’s Interests
In our scenario above, in which a colleague’s timeline may be contributing to your own difficulty meeting deadlines, understanding the vested interests of everyone in the situation is paramount. You can’t solve problems without recognizing everyone’s needs in the group. Every psychologist knows the best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests. This may be the time for connecting with your colleague about how group work gets accomplished. When attempting to solve a problem involving multiple parties, set aside your defenses and really listen to what the other person needs. Find common ground.
Maybe your colleague can get something to you sooner, or maybe she can’t. But if you are going to solve your problem, you do need a good understanding of what everyone needs to function well in your work environment. Recognizing your colleague’s needs also keeps her on your side, so you can brainstorm together how to get everything done on time.
If you are going to solve your problem, you do need a good understanding of what everyone needs to function well in your work environment. Recognizing your colleague's needs also keeps her on your side.
The next step is to form a specific strategy to solve the problem at work. When you are thinking clearly about how to solve a problem, you can brainstorm different solutions and think through pros and cons. Map them out on paper. Work with your colleague to find a solution that works for everyone. Implement a solution; for example, you and your colleague may have decided to share documents you are working on online in order to save you both time.
This step is just as important as the others. All too often, people give up when the first strategy doesn’t work. Evaluate results of your various problem-solving strategies, and don’t give up when something doesn’t work. Instead, analyze why it is not working, and add that to your information about the problem. With the new information, develop a new strategy. Learn from mistakes and try a different solution. Keep what works.
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