STEP 1: DEFINE THE PROBLEM
- First you need to clarify that there is in fact a problem that affects both parties. Sometimes, for example, you may discover that something that you both dislike or disagree with are not your concern. At other times you may discover that what is worrying you is your own responsibility and not of any concern to the other person. In either of these cases, joint problem solving is not appropriate.
- You need to make sure that you are not confusing the people with the problem. Your responsibility is to deal with work-related problems, not to criticize or try to improve the personalities of the people you are dealing with. Look through the side issues of personalities, emotions, blame or attacks to discover the real issues that are causing the problem.
- Define the exact nature of the problem. Recognize the difference between the arguments that each side is making and the actual problem that needs to be resolved. This means asking questions, clarifying. It may also mean allowing the other person to let off steam first!
- Look for the other side’s human needs as well as the actual facts of the matter. This means discovering whether their real concern is:
- Feeling insecure or threatened
- Worrying about financial security
- Not considered part of the organization network
- Feeling that you have not sufficiently recognized their achievements or that you do not value what they are doing
- Look for common ground. Use the “Why/Why not” technique: “Why” — do they do or want things their way? “Why not” — do or want things my way? This will usually help to distinguish differences from similarities and help to focus on the exact problem.
STEP 2: CLARIFY CONSEQUENCES OF PROBLEM
The problem is not a problem in itself. The problem is only a problem when it has negative consequences. So the next step is to explain or ascertain what those consequences are.
Explaining the problem means:
- Being specific Not just: “and that’s not good enough” But: “so that meant that our response time is down 20%”
- Showing how these consequences affect both sides
- Speaking positively about the problem as one which:
Can be solved
Is worth solving
Will lead to better future business.
If the other person is explaining the problem this will mean:
- ask questions
- probe and clarify until you have a clear picture of the consequences of the problem.
STEP 3: ESTABLISH YOUR CRITERIA FOR A SATISFACTORY SOLUTION
Once you have clarified the problem and its consequences you will be able to develop a clear idea of what you are looking for to provide a satisfactory solution. Spell these out very clearly: “So what we need is a new way of doing this so that it will…”
You will then have a clearer focus as you explore possible solutions.
STEP 4: EXPLORE SOLUTIONS
We all accept changes and suggestions more readily if we have been consulted and had some contribution to the decision making.
Therefore it is important to involve many people in the process, so that it really is a joint decision making process.
- Ask for their suggestions.
- Show that you are looking for a range of suggestions so that you can find the best answer.
- Show that your suggestions are not firm and inflexible.
- Accept all suggestions as worth considering. The more different ideas emerge, the more you will be able to mix and match to find the best solution.
- Look for ways of giving each side as much a possible of what they want, rather than fearing that by giving something you will be losing something in return.
STEP 5: DEVELOP THE BEST SOLUTION
Many ideas may have been generated. Sometimes the solutions will gradually emerge and it will be obvious what is the answer. But often no single solution will solve all aspects of the problem.
This is where you need to use your creativity, mixing and matching the various suggestions until you arrive at he best solution.
- Choose the best ideas that have emerged.
- Discuss what you like and dislike about each idea.
- Evaluate each idea against your criteria. In particular, note the good points of the idea, the way in which it will help to solve the problem.
- Look at each idea from a different point of view. How will it affect:
- Your organization
- Other departments
- Other suppliers….
- Decide on the best solution. Be prepared to adapt, to be flexible, provided that it will meet your basic criteria for solving the problem.
- Summarize what you have both agreed on and check out that you both have the same understanding. In particular, make sure that your agreement is described in precise, specific and concrete terms, so that there can be no misunderstandings later.
If it is complex put it in writing as soon as possible and get agreement that it correctly reflects what you each agreed to.
STEP 6: DECIDE ON ACTION
A solution is not a solution until it is acted upon.
If appropriate, help them to put it into action. Discuss the steps to be taken and explain what you can do to help.
Encourage them to feel positive about what now has to be done. You may possibly wish to arrange a follow-up session to evaluate progress and give any further help as necessary.