Have you noticed that some of the problems you are experiencing either in interpersonal relationships or work, seem to be recurring?
For example, a person who has had some unpleasant arguments with their co-workers in the past, can expect to go through similar struggles moving forward, no matter if they are in a completely different work environment. And the underlying theme of different arguments is the same – that person has a problem to establish a functional communication with their co-workers.
This is just one example, but many of us tend to repeat the problems and some of us eventually start feeling hopeless, thinking it is just our flawed character and there is nothing we could do about it.
Actually, the reason certain problems keep repeating is because we are not using an efficient problem solving technique. Luckily, we can become better problem solvers and therefore, lessen the number of problems we face.
Your life can be seriously affected if you have poor problem solving ability
Whether we’re happy or successful are largely determined by our problem solving ability. If you just leave problems being unsolved, you may suffer in the following ways:
- There are countless complicated and ambiguous problems in interpersonal interaction. If we’re not efficient problem solvers, we can hardly clear misunderstanding in communication and get close with people around us.
- Workplace is where we learn how to tackle different kinds of unexpected problems. If we don’t keep looking for new solutions, our work performance will worsen and we will easily feel frustrated when problems pile up.
- It is common for us to attribute poor mental health to unpleasant personal experience or genetic factors. But the inability to tackle problems in life can harm our mental health. According to a 1983 study, scientists found that people with weaker ability to deal with interpersonal issues are more prone to depression.
So what are the causes of poor problem solving?
Problem solving is just like other skills we need to master in life. To be good at it, we need to practice it with the right approach. Unfortunately, many of us may not realize the common mistakes we make when solving problems. Here are some examples:
Mistaking symptoms for the real causes of problems
Most of us tend to spend a lot of energy to deal with the symptoms of problems without realizing the real causes. To identify the root causes of a problem, we need to challenge the first conclusion that pops up in our mind and keep asking the right questions until we can see beyond the phenomenon of the problem.
Looking for quick fixes instead of the most effective solutions
It is our tendency to look for quick fixes of problems. This leads us to believe in our intuitive without looking into the causal relationship behind the problem. And that’s why we seldom get to the core of problems and adopts the ineffective solutions.
Relying too much on our knowledge
Finally, we become ineffective problem solvers because of our over-reliance on our knowledge. It is a common misconception that the more we know, the more capable we are to tackle problems. But the fact is mere knowledge doesn’t enable us to become effective problem solvers. What we also need is logical thinking skills, the ability to think critically and creativity.
How to be better at problem solving
In order to become better problem solvers, we need to follow these 4 steps whenever we deal with any problem in life:
1. Defining the real problem
The first and most important step is to identify the root cause of the problem. One of the most effective approach is 5 whys invented by Sakichi Toyoda in the 1930s. Totaya suggests that by asking “why” for 5 times can help us better identify the core problem.
For example, your problem might be that your business website is not getting enough traffic.
- Why is the traffic declining? Content on the website is not engaging to readers.
- Why is our content not engaging to readers? Our content doesn’t fit readers’ needs and interests.
- Why can’t our content fit readers’ needs and interests? We don’t have much understanding of our readers.
- Why don’t we have much understanding of our readers? We haven’t conducted any research in this area.
- Why haven’t we conducted any research to understand our readers? We have no resources for research.
The solution – allocating more resources on the research to understand our readers.
Please note that we only apply vertical thinking to delve deep in one possible problem, which is unattractive content in this case. If you think there is another possible reason for declining traffic, you should do another set of 5 whys. By doing this, we can train up our logical thinking skills and so what we see from a problem does not stay at the superficial level.
2. Generating alternatives
After we define the root problem, it is time to find possible solutions. Here’s where we can use the lateral instead of learned, vertical thinking. That means, rather than spending all of our energy and time on transforming one initial idea into a perfect solution, we should rather think of at least ten possible ones and write them down first.
By doing so, we won’t draw the conclusion too early or limit our choice to the first few ideas that pop up in our minds, Instead, we postpone our decision making and make use of our creativity to generate potentially better options. Although it takes us more time in this stage, we’re more likely to come up with better solutions later on.
3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives
After generating possible solutions, it is time to select the best one. To make sure we make the right decision, we should list the pros and cons of each option and then compare them on the basis of cost and benefit. In this way, you are more able to make rational choice instead of being deceived by your unreliable biased judgement.
4. Implementing solutions
Although you have gone through 3 stages and take many factors into consideration to pick the best solution, you shouldn’t have the false hope that you solution is going to to be perfect. But it’d be good to implement your solution first and then keep evaluating its effectiveness and make adjustments afterwards. Then you have a clearer direction in mind of how to tackle your problem strategically.
Recommended Reading Materials
By now, you are equipped with the efficient problem solving techniques. But if you want to learn more to further improve your problem solving skills, here are two great books you can read for more insights:
This book gives a magnificent insight into two types of thinking going on in our brains, and what conditions each. By giving us background to our behavior, the book helps us become better at understanding our programmed ways of dealing with problems so that we can hopefully find a more effective, unbiased ones.
It is a practical, illustrated guide that teaches us critical thinking and resourcefulness in problem solving.
|Sage Journals: Interpersonal Problem-Solving Skills and Depression-Proneness
|Mind Tools: 5 Whys
|Lifehack: Education Kills Our Creativity, Here Is How We Can Regain It