The Top 10 Characteristics of Problem Solvers

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be natural born problem solvers? Look closer, and you’ll discover that problem solving is more a skill than a gift. Effective problem solvers share ten common characteristics.


1. They have an “attitude”!

Simply expressed, effective problem solvers invariably see problems as opportunities, a chance to learn something new, to grow, to succeed where others have failed, or to prove that “it can be done”.  Underlying these attitudes is a deeply held conviction that, with adequate preparation, the right answer will come.


2. They re-define the problem.

Problem solving is a primary consulting skill. Seasoned consultants know that, very often, the initial definition of the problem (by the client) is incorrect or incomplete. They learn to discount statements such as, “Obviously, the problem is that …” and follow their own leadings, but…


3. They have a system.

Perhaps the most common model is the old consulting acronym: DACR/S in which the letters stand for Describe, Analyze, Conclude, and Recommend/Solve. As with many formulas, its usefulness stems from the step-by-step approach it represents. Effective problem solvers take the steps in order and apply them literally. For example, in describing the problem (the first step), they strenuously avoid making premature judgments or ruling out possibilities. In analyzing the information, they are careful that their own prejudices do not interfere. In developing conclusions, they are aware of the need to test them thoroughly. Finally, most astute problem solvers recognize that there is almost always more than one solution, so they develop several alternatives from which to choose.


4. They avoid the experience trap.

The world is becoming increasingly non-linear. Things happen in pairs, triads, and groups and often don’t follow traditional lines from past to present and cause to effect. In such an environment, where synchronicity and simultaneity rather than linearity prevails, past experience must be taken with a grain of salt. Seasoned problem solvers know the pitfalls of relying on what worked in the past as a guide to what will work in the future. They learn to expect the unexpected, illogical, and non-linear.


5. They consider every position as though it were their own.

For effective problem solvers, standing in the other person’s shoes is more than a cute saying. It’s a fundamental way of looking at the problem from every perspective. This ability to shift perspectives quickly and easily is a key characteristic of effective problem solvers. As one especially capable consultant put it, “I take the other fellow’s position, and then I expand upon it until I understand it better than he does”.


6. They recognize conflict as often a prerequisite to solution.

When the stakes are high in a problem situation, the parties are often reluctant to show their hands and cautious about giving away too much. In such instances, managed conflict can be an effective tool for flushing out the real facts of a situation.


7. They listen to their intuition.

Somewhere during the latter stages of the fact-finding (description) process, effective problem solvers experience what can best be called, “inklings”-gut-level feelings about the situation. When this happens, they listen, hypothesize, test and re-test. They realize that, while intuition may be partially innate, effective intuition is overwhelmingly a developed faculty-and they work to develop it!


8. They invariably go beyond “solving the problem”.

On a time scale, just solving the problem at hand brings you to the present, to a point you might call, ground-zero. Truly effective problem solvers push further. They go beyond simply solving the problem to discover the underlying opportunities that often lie concealed within the intricacies of the situation. Implicit in this approach is the premise that every problem is an opportunity in disguise.


9. They seek permanent solutions.

Permanent, as opposed to band-aid solutions, has two characteristics: (1) they address all aspects of the problem, and (2) they are win/win in that they offer acceptable benefits to all parties involved.  Symptomatic problem solving, like bad surgery or dentistry, leaves part of the decay untouched, with the result that, over time, it festers and erupts.  Just for the record, a permanent solution is one that STAYS solved and doesn’t come back to bite you.


10. They gain agreement and commitment from the parties involved.

It’s easy, in the heady rush of finding “the answer” to a problem, to fail to gain agreement and commitment on the part of everyone involved. For effective problem solvers, just “going along” via tacit agreement isn’t enough. There must be explicit statements from all parties that they concur and are willing to commit to the solution. Agreement and concurrence really constitute a third characteristic of the “permanent” solution discussed above, but they are so often ignored that it is important that they be viewed separately.


Written by Shale Paul, Copyright Coach University. All Rights Reserved.

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