I spent the first 20 years of my career largely focused on dispute resolution. As a representative for insurance companies in third-party (liability) claims and litigation as well as in the practice of law. Time and time again, I was in the middle of a problem and needed to be an effective problem solver.
Early in my career, I worked for a company that used a slogan to teach and reinforce their approach to dispute resolution. They encouraged employees to “Master the Basics” and I believe those same “basics” apply to approaches to problem solving in whatever endeavor we find ourselves. Effective problem solvers are effective in their calling, no matter what that calling may be.
In considering the systematic approach to working through disputes and problems, consider the “basics” of:
- Coverage – the policy has to cover the loss to move towards a resolution, otherwise the claim is denied. In more general terms, coverage is either authority or permission. You need to either have the authority to speak into a situation or permission to do so. Forcing your solutions into a place where you don’t have authority or permission creates relational problems and frustrations.
- Investigation – ask questions to determine all aspects of the details surrounding the situation. Ask the questions without a bias to try to get to an pre-determined preference. Ask the questions and pay attention to the answers without accusation, coaching or presumption along the way. The questions are to solve problems; not to build a case or support your positions.
- Evaluation – what are the options? Is there a 3rd way that is in between the cracks somewhere other than the two opposing forces that are most prevalent in a dispute or problem? Have the facts fueled creativity in the creation of potential solutions?
- Negotiation – working with people to steward relationship as you move towards a resolution. Hearing reactions along the way and paying attention to the emotion and perceptions along the way. Working towards agreement, not towards winning. Be willing to concede things as opposed yet valid points are intertwined in the disagreement.
- Resolution – finding the closest thing to a “win-win” that you can. Attempting to move everyone forward with buy-in and preservation of relationship even where there is compromise. The best resolutions are typically where each party gives up more than they had hoped but has done so from a position that recognizes the value in that choice.
In most jobs, our title could be “problem-solver,” or at least it could/should be part of our job description. As such, it likely makes sense to be intentional about how we go about doing so and be as good at it as we can. “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (NLT)