the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues.
When we're introduced into the world, we don't come with the skills needed to be good problem solvers. Rather, we lay about and come to expect that someone will remove discomfort by changing a wet diaper, filling an empty stomach, or giving us cuddles when we feel lonely, based on what our responses to those "problems" are.
If you have an infant who is picked up and cuddled every time they cry, naturally, the "problem solving" is to cry until they get the response that makes them feel a sense of comfort. Conversely, a child who doesn't get handled every time they cry develops their problem-solving skills in a different way, such as self-soothing or even crying until they fall asleep. It's at this point in our early development when our problem-solving skills begin to form. These skills become more pronounced based on our next steps in development and support. For example, a child who is neglected and is not well cared for becomes very self-sufficient in being able to serve themselves from a fridge, whereas, a child who has meals made for them may never step foot in the kitchen, because to them, meal times aren't a problem that need to be solved.
As we grow and learn more about our environment, we begin to explore the complexities of relationships with other people. At first, it's our parents, siblings, and other family members; we then move into childcare situations or school which presents a whole new dynamic as we become exposed to other ways of thinking, behaving, and believing. This is where the magic of problem-solving becomes exciting in our development.
Problem-solving is really only four steps. (Yes! Only four!) But when you look at the steps, they're reliant on a number of factors, including how empathetic we are, how much self-confidence we have, how well we manage emotions, and critical thinking. When we look at the steps, they may seem too light - or perhaps too heavy for a quick solution - but the more you focus on understanding the process of problem-solving, the more adept and confident you become within it.
Identify the real problem - oftentimes, what we find at the root of conflict/problem solving is that folks have a different definition; or a lack of understanding in terms of what the real problem is. It can be difficult to identify this in some organisations as a result of history/conflict, poor management systems, or economic turbulence. Strip apart from the varying issues that may be lumped together causing deeper confusion.
Generate solutions - once you've identified the real problem, you're often halfway to solving it, because listen, once you take the veil off the ugly bride and let her know she's ugly, you're past the hard part! This is often the first step that people try to go to, ahead of taking the time to find the real problem (or root cause) and is oftentimes why people fail when it comes to fully resolving problems or issues that dog them for years. Through this part of the process - proceed with caution - think about the stakeholders who will feel a positive or negative impact from your solutions. (Empathy alert!) Additionally, make sure you're taking the time to perform some critical analysis to provide quality solutions that you can stand behind.
Evaluate potential solutions - This almost goes without saying, but it needs to be said. This is the part where you'd write pros/cons, or perhaps consult with others on your team, or possibly impacted stakeholders. Are you really solving the problem? Or are you creating a new one or a band-aid? (Think of that song: "I know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" - that woman did herself no favours. She should have taken a digestive enzyme and called it a day if you ask me.) Consider whether other people are trying to solve the same problem. Has anyone ever done this before? Don't reinvent the wheel if you don't have to.
Apply your preferred solution and review the outcome - "Lessons Learned" are only "lessons learned" if something changes as a result of actually learning (documentation, behaviour, process, metrics, etc.) Otherwise, they're words on another Excel spreadsheet that no one will remember. If the outcome worked, great - communicate and celebrate. If not, determine why; by communication and course correction. Half solved the problem and you're good with the band-aid? That's okay too. Whatever the outcome, align your response.
People are complex. We like to be complex; complexity makes the days interesting. People who have honed their problem-solving skills are experts at teasing through complexity to get to the root of a problem as quickly as possible, in order to solve the issue and create harmony for others. This starts with a mindset of inquiry, the willingness to have difficult discussions, and the ability to manage the outcomes as it plays out.
If this is a new process (mindset) for you, give it a go and send us a message and let us know how it went. We're always happy to hear from our colleagues and clients.
Remember, a phone call doesn't cost a thing!