Workplace is where we spend most of our time. The time we spend there is more than half of a week for most of us. Besides, leaving work in the evening does not mean leaving everything in the workplace. When we go back home, we talk to our family, our partners or friends about what we experienced on that particular day. If we’re lucky and we tend to focus more on the positives, we talk about how happy we felt with a compliment from a colleague about our outfit, how a delicious lunch we had, or what a positive feedback we received for our presentation from our manager. Unfortunately, we do have negative experiences as well. Most of us think about the tasks we have to complete, the tight deadlines, or a conflict with a colleague or a manager.
Unresolved problems have usually negative effects on our job satisfaction, performance, and engagement, as well as our general life satisfaction. The problem, of course, is not having these problems. We will always have to deal with many challenges at work. However, failing to effectively deal with our problems, avoiding them, or continuously postponing them is the real problem. We find ourselves experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety due to the unresolved problem. But, how can we solve these problems in the most effective way?
The first step is acceptance. We need to accept the fact that having such problems is perfectly normal and that problems can provide us with a lot of learning opportunities unless we see them as threats. Then, we need to be aware of how we are affected by these problems emotionally. This requires a good understanding of our own emotions which will tell us a lot about our frustrations, our beliefs, our irrational thoughts, and our motives. However, emotional awareness is not something we can learn over night. It requires effort and patience. But considering its enormous positive effects on our emotional lives, why not give it a try! Let’s keep that for another post.
Then comes effective problem-solving skills. We should admit that some people are very good problem solvers. It can be attributed to their personality characteristics, how they are raised, and perhaps their experiences in life. The thing is when we say “skills”, we refer to something that can be learned – which is the good news. Although there are many variables unique to each problem, there is a model that can be followed in order to deal with problems effectively. It is, of course, possible to reconstruct this model according to your own needs and personal characteristics, but note that it is a very helpful framework that everyone can make use of.
You are aware that there is a problem, and you more or less know how it affects you (or even others who are involved). Now, you need to identifying the problem in a more detailed way and as concretely as possible. This is a very important step to take in order to solve a problem. Sometimes we think we know exactly what the problem is. However, in fact, we usually do not examine the situation objectively, or we skip certain details. Sometimes there may be more than one problem involved in a given situation and we may not be able to separate them from each other. It is very important that we try to be as objective as possible while trying to figure out what the problem is, to avoid judging ourselves or others and making generalizations.
Prior to generating some ideas about how to solve the problem, we can start evaluating our values which may influence our expectations and how we will deal with other people (if there are any). Values, in other words what the things that we attach importance at life, and our beliefs can be very powerful in our choices and reactions even if we are not aware that they are. You don’t have to spend hours on evaluating them; just ask yourself a few questions to figure out the values that may play a role in a given problematic situation. You don’t want to act in a way or make a decision that contradicts with your values. You may do, though, in certain situations where the only wise thing to do is to make your manager or customers happy; but in general, if you realize that your behaviors are always inconsistent with your values, you may want to look into that.
Setting some goals is another important aspect of effective problem solving. What do we want to achieve in this situation? What are our expectations? What kind of an outcome we would like to see in the end? These are some key questions that may help you set your goals. But, be careful to make these goals as specific and as achievable as possible. We may need some resources or assistance in reaching our goals and it can be an effective way to assess what resources we already have and how they can support us. We can then make use of these resources in our way to solving the problem.
Then comes the phase where we come up with some alternative solutions to the problem. Generating more than one alternative will prevent us from experiencing disappointment in that if our first attempt does not work, we can move on with the others. I know that real life is not that easy; you follow all these steps and then you effectively solve the problem! Well, not with angry bosses or demanding clients. However, it can work in time if you can adopt a healthy style of relating with the problem, communicating with others in an understanding way, trying your best to follow effective problem solving steps by adopting it to your own style, stay as calm as possible, and not identifying yourself with problems. After all, you are more than your problems.