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Approaching Problems in the Workplace

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What is a problem-solving approach?

Many different types of problems can arise in the workplace. It's extremely useful to have strong problem-solving skills so that you are prepared to solve them in the most efficient way possible when they arise, saving you time and money.

It’s important to be able to identify the full extent and cause of a problem before you begin to think about implementing a solution strategy. Workplace problems arise for various reasons. For example, interpersonal conflict, not having enough time to complete tasks, lack of self-belief, a shortage of tools or resources, poor communications, undue competitiveness within the workplace, conflicting job priorities, malicious gossip, culture clash, lack of opportunity, poor incentives, disconnection from company culture, lack of training, and so on.

Taking a problem-solving approach means viewing the issue at hand from different viewpoints – that is, objectively and subjectively – to allow you to implement the most suitable solutions.

Describing a problem objectively involves outlining it in a fact-based way that is observable, counted, quantifiable, provable, and impossible to deny. It presents complete truth, and is free from individual influences, so it proves helpful in rational decision-making.

If there is a lack of facts, then the problem becomes subjective, as you are describing the problem from a biased point of view or expression of opinion. Your point of view is based on your experiences, assumptions, beliefs, and opinions; and is influenced by emotions and personal feelings. The difference between viewing a problem objectively or subjectively depends on whether the evidence available is fact or opinion.

When considering a problem, subjective information is influenced by the personability of the person providing it. It is an interpretation or analysis of the facts based on personal beliefs, opinions, perspectives, feelings, and so on. In comparison, objective information produces the complete truth, as it presents a story from all angles in a systematic way. It describes the facts, which can be proven to be true.

Improving your problem-solving skills

The following methods for viewing and describing problems in the workplace can help you to improve your approach to problem solving:

First, consider your approach to the problem. Is it objective or subjective? Since an objective approach is best for allowing problem-solving, what do you need to do to gather facts? Be sure you have gathered all of the information available to you before making a decision.

Next, make sure you are as well informed as you can be about the problem. Consider what it is that you do not know about a specific subject, issue, area, or skill. Then consider how to equip yourself to attain this shortfall in knowledge.

And finally, take a moment to pause and reflect on the reasons why the problem arose in the first place. A little introspection is useful to help you to recognize if you have deviated from the plan and whether or not you need to re-align your focus.

Problem-solving in action

You drop a jar of pickles onto the floor and it smashes. Obviously, action needs to be taken. So, you pause for a moment and consider what your immediate responses should be, and in what order you are going to carry them out.

Your responses could include: Cordoning off the area, telling everyone not to step in the mess, grabbing a dust-pan and brush, grabbing a floor-mop and a bucket of soapy warm water, and reminding people that the floor is now wet.

Or, instead of taking any of those actions, you might view the situation objectively, and decide to investigate what caused you to drop the jar in the first place. You may realize that the jar is simply covered in something oily and this caused you to lose your grip. Or you might suspect you were affected by a gas leak in your kitchen and decide to investigate and fix this potentially dangerous leak first, and then attend to the mess on the floor later.

When in the workplace, consider your held knowledge and ability to subjectively and objectively view an arising problem, before considering how you should go about solving it.

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Cathal Melinn and Kevin Reid

Cathal Melinn is Digital Marketing Manager at Digital Marketing Institute.

  • 13 years’ experience in search and display
  • Worked at Yahoo! Search in 2005 as a Senior Search Strategist for the UK Financial Services vertical
  • Moved to the world of agency in 2010 as Head of Search and Online Media for five years 
  • Currently working at the Digital Marketing Institute as a Digital Marketing Manager
  • Previous clients include Apple, Vodafone, Expedia, Virgin, Universal Music Group, Amazon, Compare the Market, and HSBC

Kevin Reid is CEO of Personal Skills Training, Senior Coach at Kevin J Reid Coaching, Co-founder and Communications Director of The Counsel.ie, and Lead Collaborator of LeitrimMade.com.

  • A consummate and skillful international communications trainer, facilitator, and coach
  • Has over 15 years of learning development experience with individuals, teams, and entire organizations
  • Has facilitated communications workshops and training across numerous sectors in Ireland, the UK, Europe, America, and Africa

By the end of this topic, you should be able to:

  • Compare techniques for enhancing creative thinking skills.
  • Analyse strategies to improve problem-solving skills in the workplace

    The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

    You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

    You will not be assessed on this content.


      Creativity Skills
      Cathal Melinn and Kevin Reid
      Skills Expert

      Creative skills aren’t just for artists and designers! Everyone can learn to be more creative. In fact, the ability to think creatively is an invaluable skill in today’s workplace.

      With the help of Cathal Melinn, you will learn how to enhance your creative thinking skills – which should help you generate new ideas, find innovative solutions to problems, and develop new products and services. You will also learn how to remove barriers to creativity and the importance of persevering when your ideas fail.

      When it comes to tackling specific workplace difficulties, you will be introduced to a six-step method you can use to solve problems. And you’ll learn about the skills you need to cultivate in order to be an effective problem-solver.

      You will also turn your creative attention to the art of giving presentations. You will discover how to create and structure an effective presentation, and the preparations you need to make in advance, as well as useful tips on how to deliver an engaging presentation and how to hold a Q&A session at the end.