When an employee has an issue that’s business-related or personal, managers and employers can rapidly switch into problem-solving mode. Though well-intentioned, rushing a solution can actually exacerbate the problem, especially if it’s attempted without the employee’s input or buy-in.
Solutions are best discovered using critical thinking, which involves analyzing facts to understand a problem or topic thoroughly. This approach explores ideas from all angles with lasting results.
Below we examine basic steps to critical thinking to help avoid rushing solutions when solving problems.
Listen to the Problem
Taking the time to listen carefully to your employee allows you to clearly identify the problem, the first step to critical thinking. This enables you and your employee to make inferences about the root of the problem, which paves the way for solutions. You’ll also be positioned to better understand the possible consequences and risks of each solution.
Break it Down into Smaller, Solvable Problems
When we get overwhelmed by a large task, we’re encouraged to break it down into smaller, sub-tasks to simplify it. This strategy applies well to using critical thinking. For example, we’ve written about the need for more work-life balance for employees. This can be a complex issue for employees due to the stress of the problem itself and the worry of broaching the subject with a supervisor. After listening to the problem, ask your employee what might make them feel more successful. Perhaps it’s more flexible hours or connecting them with HR to explore childcare benefits options.
This analysis provides insights with workable smaller solutions with each step helping you meet your end goal.
Recognize End Goals
If you jump in too fast, it’s easy to see results that don’t quite hit the mark. What is the problem, and what is the end goal? Help your employee set milestones, acknowledge boundaries, and identify assumptions about their goal. Consider these the sum of the parts of the whole problem, and addressing each one ultimately brings resolution.
Be aware of common problem-solving pitfalls:
- Accepting the Quick Answers: When you rush solutions, you tend to offer answers that might only be bandaids. Instead, follow the process by recognizing the problem, looking for the causes, and continuing to question why it happened.
- One Size Fits All Approach: A solution that worked for one employee may not be suitable for another. Remember that your employees are different, and each one may have a unique set of problem-solving skills.
- Missing the Forest for the Trees: Sometimes the devil is in the details, and in the case of problem-solving, getting bogged down in minutiae makes you lose sight of that end goal. Certainly break things down into digestible bites, as we noted above, but remind your employee how this will tackle the greater issue.
Finally, sometimes the best solution is simply listening and not following up with a proposed solution. This may fly in the face of everything we just recommended, but it can be very effective. When someone is stressed, being heard can make all the difference. Perhaps your employee just needs to get something off their chest, and letting them talk could help them reset and feel refreshed.
When you slow down, you are more likely to avoid consequences that lead to more problems. Every solution you arrive at should be questioned thoroughly before you determine it is the answer to your problems.