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How to Build Your Problem-Solving Skills

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Most begin their business because they noticed a problem and have created a solution that they want to share with the world. Once the journey of starting a business has begun, your life as an entrepreneur will involve regularly solving problems within the business, such as staff issues, vendor supply delays, funding sources, quality control, and product improvement requests.

How to Build Your Problem-Solving Skills

Knowing How to Solve Problems Can Help You Enjoy the Process

Ideally, regardless of the type of problem you are solving, you will enjoy doing it and get satisfaction from the challenge. Some people think this is a talent that you must be born with, but experts disagree. You can train yourself to be a problem solver if you haven’t already. It’s an essential skill for success in every business role, from accountant to customer support. Here are some basics rules:

  • Practice active listening. Begin by giving the person your full attention, taking notes, repeating what you’ve heard back to them, and asking what they think would be an ideal solution. This first step is very important because you are setting the tone for the rest of the journey with the disgruntled individual. When you first start your conversation, you will likely hear their emotions more than the details of the situation; it will be tempting to jump in, but instead, take notes and let them vent. The more you demonstrate that you care about their pain points and want to solve the problem, the more at ease they will be during the entire process.
  • Promise action but manage expectations. First, remain calm. By staying calm, you will provide more logical responses rather than reactive ones. Reactive responses might escalate emotions and move both of you further away from a solution. Next, commit to resolving the problem, but don’t immediately promise any given solution. Let the person know that the situation is not simple, and you need some time to investigate the circumstances and alternatives. Then provide an expected timeframe for an answer and move to the next stage.
  • Investigate thoroughly. It will help you if you involve more than one person in the process of finding a solution. Ask for an outside point of view. Ask for expertise when needed. Also, don’t assume anything. Gather facts from all relevant parties. If it’s a judgment or fair treatment question, have at least two persons involved to question each party so you will have a broader perspective, which will help you reach an equitable solution.
  • Provide regular progress updates to all. Status communication is critical if the resolution time is going to be longer than one day. This is probably the most important step and perhaps the most neglected. If they hear nothing, unhappy people get progressively harder to satisfy.
  • Make a timely decision. Meet your committed time frame for a resolution. Schedule enough face-to-face time (not email or text message) to lay out your understanding of the problem, facts you have assembled, options that you considered, and your decision reached, with the reasoning behind it. If possible, let the person with the problem chose from alternatives so you get more buy-in. Put the decision in writing to prevent ambiguity.
  • Follow-up. No matter how smooth the resolution, you need to re-confirm the decision with affected parties within hours or days. This reaffirms your commitment to the process, their satisfaction, and avoids any secondary problems. If the problem was a business process, get the process update documented and communicated to all.
  • Study. Building problem-solving skills takes time and effort. Consider taking problem-solving or project management courses – you will be able to learn more techniques and practices you can use in your job.

Your Team Should Be Part of the Solution

It’s critical to train everyone on your team on these principles if you want an effective business. Involving various team members in your solution process will help them learn how you approach problem-solving. By involving them as you solve big problems, you will also empower them to solve problems before they become large enough to require your attention.

Problems happen, that’s part of life, and people usually understand that. Complications, delays, and conflicts are a normal part of every business and personal environment. What will make your business and its culture thrive is how you and your team approach solving those problems.

Here are additional articles to help you lead your team to success.

Marty is Cayenne's Chief Knowledge Officer and the Founder & CEO of Startup Professionals. His passion is nurturing the development of entrepreneurs by providing first-hand mentoring, funding assistance, and business plan development. He has over 30 years of experience in big businesses, as well as startups. View details.

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