Solving Problems at Work

Everyone encounters problems periodically. Some people seem to have more problems than others, some problems are bigger than others or more troublesome than others, but life is full of problems waiting to be solved. The career exploration and job-seeking process is rife with problems: what jobs match your career interests, where are the jobs you’d like to do, how do you convince an employer that you’re the best candidate for a job, how to please your boss once you are hired, and so forth. But it is when you have secured employment that you may need to do your best problem-solving to maintain or keep your job and, hopefully, advance.

The problem-solving model described below details a process for analyzing and resolving problems. Although the model appears quite simple, it involves a considerable amount of work on your part…it is simple but not easy! If you follow the suggested steps, you can gain control of almost any difficult or confusing situation by analyzing the problem and identifying possible solutions. Each stage of the problem-solving model is listed first, and the anticipated outcome goal for each stage is listed parenthetically afterward; then, the suggested strategies for achieving the goal follow in bulleted format.

Photo of frustrated woman with arms folded
Photo of frustrated woman with arms folded


Outcome goal: identify your problem


  • Think about what is bothering you—can you describe the problem?
  • Write out how you feel—what you feel is wrong in your life now.
  • Talk to someone who truly cares about you and ask what he or she thinks is getting in your way or causing you difficulty.
  • Write out what you think the problem is in behavioral terms—describe the situation as objectively as possible. What behaviors are you or others doing to cause conflict or anxiety?


Outcome goal: develop your plan to solve the problem


Answer the following questions:

1. “How are you contributing to the problem?”
2. “How are others contributing to the problem?”
3. “How does the environment or society contribute to the problem?”
4. “What has kept you from solving this problem?”

  • Brainstorm (discuss openly) the situation with others who care about you to determine their perspective and answers to the same four questions.
  • Write out your answers and the answers that others have given you.
  • Think about what you have written and determine what the problem’s parameters truly are based on all the answers to these four questions.
  • Write out what you consider to be viable solutions…ideas for solving the problem that you have seen work for others or that you simply think might work for you.
  • Brainstorm with others—what would they do in similar circumstances?
  • Write out their ideas—capture all of their ideas, whether you think they are good ideas or not (try not to value judge the ideas that others share with you), and add them to the list of ideas that you generated earlier. Hint: If you think you can’t capture other people’s ideas quickly by writing them out, consider recording their ideas and typing them up later.
  • Read through all of the ideas on your list.
  • Eliminate any ideas on your list that you feel are silly or don’t make good sense to you.
  • Rank your list of viable ideas from the easiest to the hardest idea to do.
  • Develop your action plan based on your rank-ordered list.

Some tips:

1. Date your plan. Put today’s date on it.
2. Set up your plan with the easiest thing to do first. Call that step one and identify start and finish dates (when you hope to accomplish the first step).
3. List each step with start and finish dates, understanding that you can always adjust your dates, if necessary.
4. Identify the key people with whom you will share your plan. It’s more likely to happen if others know about it!
5. Identify how you will know when you have accomplished all of the steps—in other words, what is the solution you hope to achieve?
6. Identify how you will reward yourself at completion. We all need rewards—yours may be a walk in the park, a bubble bath, a new CD, a new outfit, a trip to the ballpark, or whatever your heart desires!


Outcome goal: implement your plan

Strategies for keeping up with your plan:

  • Post the written copy of your plan in a conspicuous place.
  • Give copies of your plan to others who care about you in their preferred reading medium.
  • Ask your friends and family with whom you have shared your plan to give feedback as they see you working on it. If they see that you are not following through with the plan, ask them to call your inactivity to your attention.
  • Evaluate your progress frequently—note whether or not you are accomplishing the steps in the defined timeframe.
  • Reward yourself after each step in the process.
  • If you find that you are not making progress, reconsider the steps you’ve listed. Did you identify the easiest thing to do first? Did you start there? Is there something else that you need to do before you can begin? What is it? Write it down and start with it!
  • Are you stuck? If so, you may want to find a “good ear” and talk about what’s keeping you from progressing.
  • If all else fails, revisit the model—explore, understand, and act! You may have identified the wrong problem, or there may be another problem that demands attention before you can solve the problem you’ve been attempting to solve.
  • Don’t blame others for your problem—if something is bothering you, it’s your problem, and you can solve it!
  • Don’t rationalize your problem—if something is bothering you, it’s your problem, and you can solve it!
  • Don’t ignore your problem—if something is bothering you, it’s your problem, and you can solve it!
  • Be patient with yourself!

Good luck, and happy problem-solving!