Addressing Challenges and Solving Problems: A 4-Step Approach

Each and every day, we are faced with at least one challenge—and that is probably on what many of us might consider a “light” day.  Sometimes you call it challenges, other times problems.  Whatever you call them, the idea of facing problems can be scary, but it gets significantly easier when you actually realize that challenges are simply choices that you have to make. There doesn’t have to be anything terrifying or worrisome.

At its most basic, problems can come in many forms. It could be figuring out something as simple as what route you should take to work in the morning, managing a complex project at the office, or improving the morale of your team. At the same time, your ability to solve problems can contribute to how you are judged in a professional environment. But alas, these are all decisions at the end of the day.  Here are four steps to solve your problem:

1) Identifying the issue

Perhaps the most important step in problem solving is actually working to understand the issue and defining what really is the problem.  In this regard, I encourage you to address the “five W’s”—who, what, where, when, and why.  Think about the following as you work to compartmentalize and drill down on the problem you are facing:

  • Who
    • Who owns the problem?
    • Who wants the problem solved?
    • Who benefits if the problem is not solved?
  • What
    • What is the problem?
    • What are the broad/narrow realities of the problem?
    • What are the long-term vs. short-term outcomes of the problem?
  • Where
    • Is this a problem you are facing at home or work?
    • Does the problem involve other people? Or is it a technical issue?
  • When
    • What are the immediate solutions?
    • What “in the moment” factors must you consider?
    • How can you prevent this problem?
  • Why
    • Why do you consider this a problem?
    • Does solving the problem improve relationships?
    • Can a solution aid in creative productivity?

Answering these questions can actually help you take an organized approach to problem solving. Ultimately, what you want to avoid is throwing yourself at an issue in a haphazard way.  Without an organized approach, problem solving efforts usually flounder and fail.

2) Generate many alternative solutions

Studies show that your brain cannot find a solution when the only thing that is being focused on is the problem at hand. This is because when the problem is the primary thought going through your brain, you are in fact feeding negative feelings associated with it.  This blocks any solution from being formulated.  Instead, remain calm, acknowledge the problem, and then begin focusing on potential solutions where you are fixated on developing an answer.

  • Keep an open mind. Consider any and all possible solutions, even the silly ones. Keeping an open mind boosts creative thinking.  Adhere to the “no idea is a bad idea” train of thought, as it’s often the seemingly “crazy” ideas that lead to logical answers.
  • Stay neutral. The moment you start looking at a problem, as something “scary” is the moment when you throw neutrality out the window. Don’t pass judgment on a problem, remember, a problem is just feedback in that something currently isn’t working correctly.  Keep a level head so negative thoughts and feelings do not surface and form a roadblock to finding an answer.
  • Think laterally. Try to change your approach and look at the problem in a new way. For instance, consider flipping your overall objective around, doing a 180, and finding a solution that is the polar opposite of what you started out aiming to do.  Even if this feels “weird” it can offer a fresh and unique approach that stimulates new thinking patterns.
  • Use positive language. Start brainstorming sessions off with words that allow for creative thinking.  Say, “what if…” and “imagine if we did…” Work to avoid close-ended or negative language like, “I don’t think” or “Probably not an answer, but…” You are setting yourself up for failure with language like that!

3) Consider the consequences of each solution

After you have generated a number of different solutions, you need to consider the consequences of each solution, and then pick one.

If you go back to the “five W’s”—who, what, where, when, and why, you can reflect on each option.

  • Who
    • How would each person be impacted by any given solution?
  • What
    • What will be the consequence of picking any given solution?
    • What will be the consequence of not doing any given solution?
  • Where
    • Where will the solution show up?
  • When
    • How long will it take for the solution to address the issue?
    • When will the problem be completely solved?
  • Why
    • Why do you think this solution will work?
    • Why do you think this is the best solution?

4) Pick one

Now you can make an informed decision.  And if it doesn’t work, simply go back to Step 1.

Finally, remember to keep it simple.  It’s human nature to try to overcomplicate a situation.  Instead of adding layers of complexity to the problem, try generalizing your approach.  Look for the obvious solution—you really may be surprised to understand that the decision you have to make isn’t that difficult!

If you are interested in continuing to enhance your problem solving abilities, I invite you to reach out to me by visiting  I have the capability of assisting professionals at all levels of their career with strategies that boost productivity and aid in the achievement of success!