Know the problem you are solving

Some do’s and don’ts of problem-solving

Problems exist everywhere and may arise in all facets of our lives. They are natural part of any work related or business related process. These problems block our progress if not addressed or solved. When we fail to solve these problems, we often learn to work around them or simply learn to live with them. But they can be solved and focusing on finding solutions to problems that arise empowers us and will benefit our personal and professional lives.

It may not be clear what the problem is unless it comes to light. Understanding the problem is important in order to know whether to spend the time or money to find a solution. As a problem solver, you need to understand how the system meant to work and the fundamentals that affect the problem so you can follow a systematic approach. You can find solutions to almost any kind of problem in a methodical and disciplined way.

Here are some do’s and don’ts when diving into problem-solving.

Understand the problem

When we face a problem, we tend to come up with many ideas of what might be wrong and how to fix it and quickly get to work without proper understanding. Anytime you come up with a potential cause that you are not certain of ‘you are guessing’. Guessing is naturally reinforced throughout our lives and we like it because it is quick and works for some of easy problems.

Guessing has number of drawbacks as it

robs you of your time and resources to test every guess. With a long list of your guesses, you will end up wasting both and worse sometimes you may miss out the root cause on your list. You might cause new problems as you really don’t understand the root cause.

Next time around, when these guesses are going to bounce around and distract you, do not suppress, write down your guesses, recognise them for what they are and get them out of your system. Take time to analyse and understand the problem before you rush in to solve it.

“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” – Naoto Kan

Do not Hide Behind Ignorance

We are often afraid to admit what we don’t know, because it is comforting to imagine that we already have a good idea of the solution to our problem and can take action. The fear of looking ‘ignorant’ or of being ‘exposed’ by asking questions one is “ supposed to know” causes many to hide behind their ignorance. You fail to solve the problem by pretending to know something you don’t under false understanding.

When you are in a problem solving situation, you must focus on learning what you do not yet know. You need not present yourself as all-knowing. Embrace your ignorance and challenge what ‘everyone knows’ by asking questions to make sure you have facts. These questions shatter assumptions and provoke new insight and gets you closer to the problem-solving.

Define the Problem

Get your problem definition right. The way you define your problem influences the solution. Not knowing the problem you are solving might lead to wasting your time and resources to fix something that was never the problem in the first place, whereas defining lets you have a measurable observation and you can remove guessing and emotional attachment to the problem.

Don’t get trapped into solving the wrong problem by defining with prejudice or assumption. Make sure to define your problem as something that is fully within your scope and precisely describing what you observe.

“A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved.” – Dorothea Brande

Don’t wander aimlessly, Generate Possible Solutions

Sometimes, we aimlessly wander around looking at too many things and reams of data. Instead try to ask specific questions about the behaviour of the problem and generate as many solutions possible.

Understand what is going on behind your problem and what controls your problem. Here are some questions to ask:

1. What does the problem look like?

2. Is it the same every time?

3. When did you first see this?

4. What pattern do you notice?

5. What is its cause?

Be detailed and thorough to know how the problem manifests and use the answers as guides. You can develop a pattern of failure to understand where the problem does and doesn’t happen. Try to find specific information and generate possible solutions. Consider about the positive and negative consequences and what you want the solution to do or not to do.

“You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability.” – Michael J. Gelb

Arrive at simple solutions

Many of us are used to a pattern of poor problem solving that we have come to believe that complex problems have complex solutions. The complex solutions tend to be often expensive and end up fixing the symptoms instead of the actual problem. Break your assumption and believe in simple solution to complex problems.

Once you understood the root cause,

evaluate them for their effectiveness by considering the following:

1. Does the solution solve the real problem?

2. What are the consequences of implementing the solution?

3. Would this solution help you solve the problem permanently?

This way, you can eliminate many of the variables that aren’t working and can arrive with best and simple possible solution.

Simple solution will always give you the most effective outcome and you will be able to approach the problem correctly rather than work around it.

Don’t make opinion-based decisions

If a particular problem that is ‘known to all’ is being solved, a common method is to use “wisdom of the group.” In solving such problems, do not use your assumptions about facts or the assumptions of others to make decisions, rather verify the facts yourself. Opinion-based decisions prevent progress and you might end up in a wrong direction and won’t solve the problem.

When solving your own complex problems, recognise your opinions for what they are and set them aside.

Use facts to determine which solution is most objectively valuable and has more impact. Be persistent in getting the right facts and make fact-based decisions.

“Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.” – Brian Tracy

Finally, Focus your efforts to stay on the solution-finding path and avoid distractions. Don’t get bogged down by expanding the scope of your problem endlessly. Instead break up your problem to eliminate the variables that are not contributing and dig into those you can’t eliminate. This keeps you on the path to the root cause.

Next time you are faced with a problem or an issue, try to structure your efforts systematically and focus on an organised approach to get to the possible solution.

Enhance your Psychological Capital.

Boost your PsyCap to enhance your personal and organisational performance.

People are constantly doing things. But usually only when they have to or under fire from themselves or others. Many of them lack organisational capabilities, planning and management of their internal and external agreements. They get no sense of winning or of being in control, or of cooperating among themselves and with others. This dramatically decreases their ability to make things happen and lowers their performance personally or professionally.

Acting out of external pressure or stress

lowers your self-esteem and ends up making you feel not so good about yourself. Disempowerment lowers your positive Psychological Capital or PsyCap. The aim of developing positive psychological state is to build best qualities, to get things going of your own accord, before you are forced to by external pressure and internal stress. This builds a firm foundation for good self-worth and self-esteem that in turn spreads to every aspect of your life. You are the captain of your own ship; the more you act from this perspective, the better things will go for you. This increases your ability and levels of empowerment.

What is PsyCap?

PsyCap is a common resource connected to many positive outcomes such as job performance, psychological well-being and boosting your self-esteem. PsyCap is your overall resourceful state with all your potentially meaningful things clarified, organised and reflected upon. People with high PsyCap, put more effort into a task, are tenacious, have realistic expectations of future success and respond positively to setbacks or difficulties.

Your PsyCap is a combination of following:

Self-efficacy : is the ability to take on and devote the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks. This improves your job satisfaction, commitment and well-being. (By enabling you to create and maintain a complete picture of your commitments to yourself and others in order to make good decisions, automatically builds your confidence, control and well-being.)

Hope: Your desire or ambition to persevere and redirecting paths when necessary to reach goals in order to succeed. (Identifying your valuable goals and generating multiple pathways helps you to consider required resources to pursue them. Discarding unrealistic pathways and adopting smaller and realistic pathways makes you more organised and you can generate multiple solutions.)

Resilience: Ability to face problems and adversity, to sustain and to bounce back to original or to even better state of being. (There will be obstacles to virtually any goal. When you ensure ownership of your goals, you can anticipate and be better prepared for obstacles and can overcome them by implementing multiple pathways. You can respond positively to setbacks.)

Optimism: Ability to believe that you will succeed and involves making positive attributions about succeeding now and in the future. (Greater optimism enables you to draw connection between the successful completion and their purpose goal-directed efforts. This creates constructive thinking patterns and inspiring atmosphere. You can adapt well to change.)

Why is PsyCap important?

Positive psychological state leads to positive organisational behaviour and improves your personal and organisational well-being. PsyCap consists of essential personal psychological resources such as self-esteem, being in control and emotional stability. Empowerment, competence and initiating actions with a sense of having a choice is more possible if you develop high levels of PsyCap. Empowering yourself leads to effectiveness, improves your belief in your own capabilities and can have a positive impact on yourself and others.

Ways to enhance your PsyCap.

What can you do to build up your ability and to enhance your PsyCap? Here are some ways to overcome inadequacy attitudes and learning to practice hope and optimism.

Raise your individual self-awareness.

Self-awareness and understanding your needs is an important key to behaving in a ways that move you closer to achieving your goals.

Accept your strengths and weaknesses. This lets you express yourself clearly and helps in asserting your needs with others effectively. Once you are aware of your area of strength, find ways to demonstrate it. Being self-aware lets you define your valuable goal and ensures ownership and freedom to make choices.

Avoid generic positive affirmations.

You can tell yourself you’re great but if you don’t really believe it, your mind will reject the affirmation. Just telling yourself ‘you can do it’ isn’t enough. Your affirmations should be based on your true strengths. Use constructive and positive statements to avoid negative self talk and to control your inner dialogue. List out your valuable goals and devise realistic pathways based on your true strengths.

Open yourself to feedback.

Self esteem is not fuelled by —‘I’ll be successful any day now’ — or by false beliefs — ‘I am the greatest.’ It is fuelled by authentic experiences of demonstrating ability, competence, and learning from mistakes. True estimate of your ability helps you to make necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks. You can attempt to make yourself better by being open to feedback.

Conquer self-deprecation.

Do not let self-deprecatory thoughts grow into mental monsters. Do not build up obstacles in your imagination. Difficulties must be efficiently dealt with to be eliminated, but they must be seen for only what they are. They must not be inflated by your fear thoughts. Have positive expectations about future.

Keep up with your internal and external agreements.

When people with whom you interact notice that without fail, you receive, process and organise the agreements and exchanges they have with you, they begin to trust. You tend to incorporate a level of self-confidence in your engagements. This prevents a poisonous guilt complex and enhances the quality of your communications and relationships, both personally and professionally.

Remain flexible in the face of obstacles.

Never be too stubborn to change. Seeking out unconventional solutions to problems and keeping an open mind helps you in making your own decisions in the face of problems. Think outside the box to develop tolerance for ambiguity and maintain an openness to change.

Finally,

Create sense of direction in your life and develop a foresight to anticipate problems or needs by paying attention to the details. Be committed and do things that actually make you feel accomplished, appreciated and empowered. Try taking steps that make you feel you’re advancing towards your goals.

Participate in the process of listening

To actively engage yourself in listening is different from simply hearing.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new.”

– Dalai Lama

Conversations are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives and work environments. Most of us engage in different conversations with friends, co-workers and family members. But most of the time we fail to give them our complete attention and thereby fail to listen to what other person is saying. Just hearing the other person and being fully present in the moment are not the same. Hearing is a physical, natural and passive process as compared to listening which is mental, active, and learned process.

People are often selective listeners. They focus on few key words and ignore most of the other communication. They get distracted by external factors like noises or random sounds, and internal factors like self-talk or thoughts or emotions. By passively absorbing, you cannot remember the context of what someone is sharing. The more vocal you are at meetings, at public functions or even social gatherings, the greater your perceived value as a keen-minded person and same holds true with listening. In expressing yourself verbally, you perforce have to take an “either or” position. In our zeal to be seen as being either “pro” or “anti” something, we often lose the sight of the larger picture. This larger picture can be seen only by engaging yourself in active listening.

Active listening is important to collaborate, to increase productivity and to fuel your creative thinking. It focuses on understanding the speaker beyond his/ her words and takes into account the feelings, emotions and beliefs underlying the speech. Active listening creates a safe, comfortable atmosphere to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas.

What is Active listening?

It is a way of being attentive, fully present in the moment, concentrating, engaging in the conversation and absorbing what the other person is saying to you. The emphasis is on listening and involves being attentive and respectful to the speaker. This allows understanding, and builds rapport and trust with the person in conversation. It paves way for learning by expanding the conversation and provides a wider perspective of looking at things rather than in a limited context.

Most of the times we don’t actively listen to the information and ideas being shared by others as we are too eager to share our personal ideas. By actively engaging in listening to what is being shared helps you to know and acknowledge work-related or personal issues of other people.

When you fail at listening you are sending out an armada of negative messages. You are saying:

• I don’t care about you.

• I don’t understand you.

• You are wrong.

• You are wasting time.

Active listening is an important skill that needs to be developed and can be honed into a habit with practice. Here are certain ways to develop the habit.

Respond, Don’t react.

Do not give instinctive responses without proper understanding. Listen to the content of the speech by focusing on the specific words that are being used. Understand the context. Share feedback by responding to what is being shared.

Wait, Don’t interrupt.

Do not break the speaker’s flow no matter how important and relevant your input is. Wait until you are sure the person has completed what he or she had to say and then offer your inputs. Exercise patience, short periods of pause should be expected.

Encourage, Don’t ask close-ended questions.

Encourage the speaker with open-ended questions that begin with why, who, what, where, and how. Open-ended questions enable more descriptive answers and show that you are taking keen interest. Ask questions to understand things better and not in a bid to demonstrate your intelligence or superiority.

Focus, Don’t distract.

Distracting thoughts can pose a serious barrier to active listening. Become aware of your self-talk. Thoughts like ‘I think this person is just wasting my time’ can distract your active listening. Convert such self-talk into positive statements such as “There’s always something to learn from others.” Focusing on what is being said makes you a better listener.

Provide affirmations, Don’t be defensive.

Include words such as ‘sure’ or “that’s interesting.” Don’t let your emotions get in the way. Adopt a pragmatic approach as a listener. Instead of offering a counter argument, try to understand the other speakers’s point of view and try to see things from their perspective. Paraphrasing can eliminate misunderstandings and increases empathy and rapport. Paraphrased statements begin with “Are you saying that…” or “ What I understand is…”

How does Active listening help?

Learning how to be an active listener is very beneficial. In a professional context, active listening can help shape you into a better leader and co-worker. In a personal context, when you give your attention to people expressing thoughts and sharing their experiences, your ability to understand improves your perceived value.

Here are few ways in which being an active listener can help you overcome obstacles.

Provides optimal solutions.

Workplaces are often fuelled by stress and pressure that requires you to handle multiple situations and people. This can be often demanding and you have to make sure that all the tasks are tackled and addressed. Being an active listener —whether by asking questions or summarising to ensure clear and better understanding — helps you to quickly assess the problems and subsequently helps you arrive with accurate and optimal solutions and can resolve them in a timely manner. Without active listening, you would find gaps in your knowledge and you may not be able to offer a solution.

Provides fresh points of view.

Active listening makes you better focused at the new ideas presented at your work place or in your daily life. Active listening improves your ability to analyse and recognise the difference between facts and opinions. You can uncover the assumptions and be open to new ideas and relate to old ones. You will be better equipped to take useful notes and fresh points of view. This can further bring positive outcomes.

Builds trust and collaboration.

Encouraging your coworkers to freely reach out with their concerns makes you supportive person at work place. Knowing and acknowledging work-related or personal issues that they are dealing with will make you feel valued. Active listening forms the basis for lasting relationships and building trust whether between partners or workplace or parents and children and friends.

Children and adults who have been actively listened to are more emotionally mature, more open to sharing their experiences, less defensive and more cooperative.

Finally, Active listening strengthens interpersonal relationships and breaks down barriers. Always maintain eye contact and avoid distractions by muting cell phones and moving away from other electronic devices when you engage yourself in conversations with others.

Practicing active listening will help you become a better student, more efficient in your job, develop patience and send positive messages.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

Zeno of Citium