How to Clearly See Problems and Solutions in the Workplace


Problems can consume us. We don't like them. Sometimes we run and hide in an effort to avoid the reality of them. Nonetheless, most problems are seldom resolved without intervention. They can quickly add both apprehension and agitation to our already stressful lives. These inconvenient, worrisome troubles have the power to devour our time and energy. Ongoing, unaddressed, and unresolved problems may cause us to become nervous and even fearful in regard to our work, our conversations, our meetings, our relationships, our finances, and so much more. We may find each day beginning with the dreaded thought, "What's next?" 

Yet according to Theodore Isaac Rubin, "The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem."
Furthermore, we have this insight from David Augsburger: "The more we run from conflict, the more it masters us; the more we try to avoid it, the more it controls us; the less we fear conflict, the less it confuses us; the less we deny our differences, the less they divide us."
And this gem from G.K Chesterton: "It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem."
These gentlemen are correct. Getting past all the troublesome symptoms of a problem to uncover the root conflict takes effort. We must not run and hide, but face our problems and work towards finding solutions.     But how do we get there from here?

These gentlemen are correct. Getting past all the troublesome symptoms of a problem to uncover the root conflict takes effort. We must not run and hide, but face our problems and work towards finding solutions. But how do we get there from here?

  • How should we view our problems?
  • How do we discern the core problem?
  • How do we manage the problem once we realize what it is?
  • Should we establish a personal approach for dealing with routine problems?
  • What problem-solving technique should we use?
  • How do we contribute toward a solution?
  • How do we provide a successful resolution to a problem? 

Viewing Problems from a Different Perspective

Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity. Martin Villeneuve

businesswoman thinking about problems at desk

Problems are the price of progress. Don't bring me anything but trouble. Good news weakens me. Charles Kettering

Consider varying angles, priorities and questions. From my experience, the best advisors help in three ways: encourage you to look at the problem or opportunity from multiple angles; help you balance the tug of the short-term with important long-term priorities; and ask the tough questions you need to know to reach the best solution. Margo Georgiadis

MY EXPERIENCE: Several years ago, my job involved writing government compliance reports. However, the bulk of content for some of these documents had to be provided by off-site engineers located all over the U.S. These individuals worked tirelessly in lonely places solving problem after problem. Reporting in to me with the details of their progress was a low priority at best, and this was the problem. Nevertheless, the monthly updates were of vital importance. Utilizing a little good advice, creativity, diligence, diplomacy, understanding and patience, I managed to solicit the information successfully and will always be grateful for the time and efforts of these engineers.

How to Discern Root Problems in the Workplace

According to     Daniel H. Pink, Asking "Why?"   can lead to understanding.   Asking "Why not?"   can lead to breakthroughs.

According to Daniel H. Pink, Asking "Why?" can lead to understanding. Asking "Why not?" can lead to breakthroughs.

The Five Whys Strategy. "In many situations, in your immediate position or in your organization, for example, real root causes become obscured by other, "apparent" problems. Thus the goal of the "Five Why" exercise is to ensure that root causes, not merely these superficial symptoms, are identified and resolved." Peter Vajda

Why Ask Why. "All highly competent people continually search for ways to keep learning, growing, and improving. They do that by asking WHY. After all, the person who knows HOW will always have a job, but the person who knows WHY will always be the boss." Benjamin Franklin

Cause & Effect / Root Cause Analysis. According to this article, "Professor Kaoru Ishikawa created Cause and Effect Analysis in the 1960s. The technique uses a diagram-based approach for thinking through all of the possible causes of a problem. This helps you to carry out a thorough analysis of the situation."

Pareto Analysis. According to this article on the website, "Pareto Analysis essentially states that 80% of the defects and issues in the quality of the end product delivered to the customers and consumers is caused and brought about by just a mere 20% of the problems and process deformities encountered during the production process."

MY "WHY" STORY: Have you ever known a problem existed but couldn't seem to get to the bottom of it?

figure staring at huge red question mark
  • Perhaps like me, you wondered, "Why are these people so disrespectful and unkind to authority?"
  • Later you asked, "Why are they so critical?"
  • Then you discerned the reason for some of the angst but still pondered, "Why are their words so vicious and cruel?"
  • Even later it occurs to you to ask, "Why is there such fierce opposition against such good people?" You don't feel that way.
  • Still later, "Why does this behavior never change?"

Aha moment: "Why? Because it is a group that has always judged harshly, always been willing to cast aside, always focused on the bad rather than the good, always been loud in casting their opinions, always waiting to announce the negative to others, always, like storm clouds that never stop brewing. The root cause of the problem . . . a stronghold of personal opinion that is always right and unrelenting, unwilling to negotiate, regardless of the consequences.

While this may not be exactly how the "Five Whys" approach works, I think it is a good example of "where" the fairly simple process of asking "why" can take you. 

Managing Problems in the Workplace

Pretending and Ignoring: Don't ignore big problems, and don't try to pretend that problems are smaller than they are. Gina Raimondo

Fascinating problems: Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. Paul Hawken

Facing the facts: Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. Colin Powell

Agreeing vs. Disagreeing: If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, both are useless. Darryl F. Zanuck

conflict management - 3 figures

Establishing solutions as rules: Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems. Rene Descartes

Creating a team of problem-solvers: Empowering, cultivating, and ultimately serving those who follow you will unlock massive potential within your organization, allowing you to solve for problems in real time. Stanley A. McChrystal

Exploring the depths of your people: People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored. Eugene H. Peterson

Discovering the power of discussion and debate: Businesses that run well are almost like marriages. Everything has to be up for discussion, or there will be real problems. Nobu Matsuhisa

MY 4TH GRADE EXPERIENCE: During the years I spent as an educator, one of the things I came to enjoy about teaching is that even the mere mention of “cool possibilities” often inspires young minds to engage and do great things. So, one day in our medieval studies, we discussed catapults. Just for fun, I presented a formula and challenged them to do the math to determine the best distance/angle from which to catapult a 10-pound stone over a 15-foot wall. After some success and per their request, they were then allowed to change the variables. You would not believe the enthusiasm created as these fourth grade students imagined numerous scenarios and attempted to find the best catapulting distance for each one. Fascinating problems 101.

What is your personal approach to dealing with problems which present themselves during the day?

Confront problems promptly. Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough. Earl Wilson

Change your way of thinking. We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

Lose the attitude! Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude. William James

Why does a manager need integrity and emotional intelligence? Because nothing about managing conflict is simple.

Why does a manager need integrity and emotional intelligence? Because nothing about managing conflict is simple.

Work with others on a solution. Collaboration is important not just because it's a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So, learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy. Don Tapscott

Focus on solutions not self. If we live a self-directed, self-motivated, self-centered life, always needing to get our own way, then we're going to be miserable. In fact, many times we believe it's our problems that are making us unhappy when, in reality, it's because we're focused on ourselves! Joyce Meyer

Engage your curiosity regarding the problem. Encourage your own curiosity; pursue the problems based on that. James Mirrlees

MY EXPERIENCE WITH CONFLICT: For all the ways that I have successfully managed problems in the past, there are many others which I have tended to handle with much less success. I am challenged by several of the above approaches. Confrontation . . . not something I ever relish. Attitude, personal feelings, change . . . these can present many challenges for me.

However, in all my experiences, here is what I have perceived. People are often reactive and moody; machines are sometimes haphazard in their operations; and our choices have consequences. I can’t control all of these, but I can choose how I respond to personal conflicts and other challenges.

During a personal conflict, we can ask a caring and probing question rather than yelling or turning away in exasperation. In dealing with a technical difficulty, we can work with others to determine the best solution instead of getting frustrated or angry and casting blame. When we make mistakes or unfortunate decisions, we should take ownership of the problem, correct it when possible, and focus on moving forward. 

Keys to Problem-Solving

problem solving with others in a circle

Ferret out the root problem. A problem well stated is a problem half-solved. Charles Kettering

Don’t try to solve it alone! There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves. Lyndon B. Johnson

Take ownership! When a team takes ownership of its problems, the problem gets solved. It is true on the battlefield, it is true in business, and it is true in life. Jocko Willink

Learn from the disgruntled! Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. Bill Gates

Increase your EQ! Having emotional intelligence (or EQ) allows you to manage your emotions, show empathy, and prevents you from getting distracted. It also helps you solve problems and be a more likable person. John Rampton

MY PRESENT STORY: I recently realized a serious problem that exists in our community. I shared the problem with my husband and discussed strategies for resolving it. So far, none of our ideas seem like the right choice. Regardless, merely labeling a problem correctly is half the solution. We’re on our way!

Contributing to the Solution

The power of one man's or woman's vision. Don't underestimate the power of your vision to change the world. Whether that world is your office, your community, an industry or a global movement, you need to have a core belief that what you contribute can fundamentally change the paradigm or way of thinking about problems. Leroy Hood

Creativity in problem-solving - practice empathy. When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems. Stephen Covey

Learn how to ask the right questions. You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability. Michael J. Gelb

Volunteering is a great way to look outside your own problems. Giving back makes you happier by both giving you a sense of purpose and helping to put your problems in perspective. Karen Salmansohn

problem & solution

MY FUNDRAISING EXPERIENCE: This past year I led a fundraiser for the No More Malaria campaign in our church. When you act as a leader for a cause such as this, you must first understand the problem and potential solutions. Realizing the deep need for funds to fight on behalf of the thousands of children who die of this mosquito-borne disease each year motivated me and helped inspire our members to give more than we ever anticipated. Furthermore, the mere process of working through challenging situations can lend itself to the successful resolution of problems in many areas of life.

Managing Problems Successfully

Problems that hang around vs problems that are truly resolved. The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year. John Foster Dulles, Former Secretary of State

resolution - man's fist on desk

MY OFFICE MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE: In this case scenario, I was the office manager for a new facility and had slowly become overwhelmed by the increasing responsibilities of my position. Stress began to take over. My boss then gave the go-ahead for me to hire a couple of assistants, whatever I felt was needed. So, I did just that, and my world became manageable once again. I could have continued in my stressed-out state of mind, but the position was never intended to be a one-woman show. Hiring these two part-time administrative assistants enabled us to complete our duties in a timely and efficient manner.

The Resolution and Conclusion of a Problem

win win puzzle piece

Real solutions, once applied, can alleviate multiple problems. The efficient resolution of problems decreases our level of stress and causes us to feel more hopeful. Hope, in turn, makes us believe we can take on the world at large . . . and win! We find ourselves thinking, "Okay, what's next?!?!" with the most optimistic outlook imaginable.

So, if you're not already the type of manager who is good at confronting and solving problems, begin your efforts anew. According to Pearl Zhu, author of 100 Digital Rules, “We all develop reputations for being problem creators, problem definers, or problem solvers.” Which one are you? Which one will you be known as one year from now? Where to begin? Eraldo Banovac offers this advice: “Do you want to resolve a conflict successfully? Don't wait, start a conversation.” 

To speak with our business consultant regarding unresolved conflicts in your place of business, contact Brannon Professionals at your convenience.