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Methodical problem-solving is the basis of constructive responses to negative feedback, criticism and hostility. It is an essential skill-set for effective meetings and teamwork, coaching, mentoring, managing performance and resolving conflict.
But conventional approaches to problem solving are superficial because they deal with symptoms, not root causes. This often makes matters worse because when causes are temporarily suppressed, they eventually resurface as more challenging or more complex problems.
The misdirection of activity begins with the definition, wittingly or unwittingly used to define "the problem". Typically, problems are described as -
- Solutions (general or specific) or the absence of them; or
- Insufficient of a particular remedy.
This focus on possible "fixes" distracts attention from probable causes and restricts thinking at the very moment wide-ranging inquiry is needed. How people feel about the issues is not regarded as useful data in the rush to "solve" things. Deliberation becomes narrow-focused and convergent. Causes are overlooked, glossed-over, assumed or guessed at.
A problem is always the effect(s) of causes. Any "solution" implemented before causes are accurately established, risks ineffectiveness. People become stressed, frustrated, cynical, bored or apathetic when they have to rework the "same old" issues as problems recycle themselves unsolved.
Typical group problem solving has been likened to a group of blindfolded people acting individually to describe an elephant, based on the aspects of it they can sense. Their isolated perceptions are entirely valid but at odds with others' and lacking completeness because of their limited viewpoints. Without a common strategy or awareness of the others' approach, the process eventually becomes an argument about possible "solutions".
"I once observed a group of 14 managers take an hour to address a serious business problem and fail to reach a satisfactory conclusion. In a paper exercise immediately following, we discovered 14 incompatible versions of the problem they'd been discussing. They agreed that: (i) those best informed about the issues had not been involved; (ii) they had failed to establish what caused the problem (and very few had tried); (iii) the event had been an unhelpful argument about solutions; and (iv) this was standard practice and an astonishing waste of resources." [Tom Watkins]
In a methodical approach to resolving problems -
- The issues are first explored
- Problems are carefully defined against an agreed generic definition which includes both the practical and emotional effects of events
- Causes are established before solutions are considered and acted on
- "Solutions" are methodically monitored against the presence or absence of the original unwelcome events.
EncourageMentors can help you learn a simple and systematic process (compatible also with using your intuition) for more efficient problem-resolution. It can be applied whenever:
- You and your team, group (or family) have a problem that needs addressing
- You need to get to the nub of recurring, unsolved problems
- Someone else is experiencing an unresolved difficulty of any kind and is open to your support
- You are being criticised, judged, blamed or labeled by someone else or you are both experiencing a problem with the relationship
- You are experiencing an unresolved difficulty-with a task, project or relationship.
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