Pillars of Problem Solving

Shawnee Love   •  
May 9, 2014

Problem solving is a required skill in today’s business world.  But no matter how skilled you are, or who else is involved, for a problem to be resolved (rather than arbitrated), four things need to exist:

1.Shared goals: All parties involved need to want the same thing(s).  It can take time to peel the onion of desires and wants to find something all involved can agree on, but you have to start with what you can agree on for problem solving to be successful.

2. Understanding of the root problem: In good problem resolution, before trying to solve the problem, take the time to define what the problem is in detail. Ask “Why” over and over until you can’t go any deeper. If you don’t work on the roots of a problem, any resolution will merely be temporary.

3. Effective communication: Effective communication happens when the communication lines are open and allow ad hoc as well as pre-planned conversations. Effective communication means you take time to understand the intentions and motivations of people involved as well as seek out opportunities to share information, consult, and get feedback because the more involved and valued each party feels, the more likely you will get honesty and willingness to participate. Additionally, effective communication includes asking and answering questions,  sharing ideas and information, brainstorming, discussing, and debating. In fact, healthy constructive debate is fundamental to problem solving because it opens up new possibilities and brings alternative solutions forward.  To be effective, contents of discussions should never be personal but always about the problem and solutions focused.  Venting and complaining has its time but not at the problem solving table.

4. Willingness to Compromise: Digging into positions creates trench warfare. Compromise is critical to resolving a problem, because it involves 3 activities:
• Acknowledging and valuing different perspectives,
• Recognizing that achieving the shared goal is paramount, and
• Willingness to flex to overcome the obstacle in pursuit of the shared goal

What compromise doesn’t mean is selling your soul, giving up your values and principles or being left with no other options because those types of compromise merely set the stage for future problems.

These 4 things are the foundation for successful problem solving.  Do you have them?

Edited from a blog originally created for BC Women's Enterprise Centre 
in April 2012.