Taking Control...

It s all very well being on top of things at work when everything s going well, but the real challenge comes when you meet a brick wall. How you respond is the real test of your ability to solve problems and make things happen.

Examine your wall

It is important to get a problem into perspective. There are those who insist on treating each as the worst thing that has ever happened. But the treatment that works for molehills rarely displaces a mountain. Time spent examining the problem objectively is never wasted and it is a determining characteristic of those enviable folk who have both a sense of proportion and real control over their lives.

Is it really immovable? On first sight the problem may seem too much to cope with. But if you take time to examine it, you often find it is less serious than you thought. Clever deployment of the resources at your disposal and focused teamworking can make all the difference.

Who put it there? Who or what has caused the problem? Get them on your side. After all, who better to solve it than the person who created it?

Why is it there? The answer may not be to you're liking, especially if you are worse off as a result, but understanding this can help you to come up with an alternative which meets the constructor's needs without thwarting your ambitions. Occasionally, you might even be convinced of the wall's value and learn to live with it (see below).

Is it really intractable? Frequently the solution to a problem involves rising above it and thinking at a higher level. It may not be as tough as you originally thought.

Is there really no way around? People are sometimes numbed by the dimensions of the difficulty. A glance to the left or the right would reveal that what they are looking at is not a wall at all, but a tower! And bingo!, the solution is to hand.

Does the problem really exist? Are you being overwhelmed by something which exists solely in your head. Often it is a question of personal history. In this kind of situation, you have always given up, so why bother to check what lies round the corner? Or perhaps you are reacting to gossip. Whatever it is, you fail to make the necessary check. More on this later.

Develop your approach

Think of occasions when you have dealt well with a difficult issue. Scan this list and assess which of the techniques you have used:

Ensure that you have the right skills and can apply them effectively in order to help you overcome the problem.

Put company politics to work, persuade others of your argument and carefully manipulate the situation so that others may not even realise that it is happening.

Confront the issue, head on, perhaps in an explosive manner, to clear the air and remove the problem.

Understand the complexity of the matter, work out how to unravel it and implement the solution methodically.

Change direction so that you are not prevented from from achieving your goals. It may be just a question of changing tack.

Learn to love it: you have worked hard to understand the situation and are learning to make the best of it.

It may be that your successful strategy was a combination of these tactics. The trick is to choose the right one and exercise it at the appropriate time. And in order to do that, it is important to understand the nature of the brick wall, where it has come from and why it has come about.

External issues

These may be caused by the world around you - a change in company policy or an organisational culture at odds with your values; or individuals whose view of you does not tally with your own. This does not imply that your own contribution has been negligible, but external forces are involved. Asking for advice and learning from your experiences can help you to break through barriers and work towards an effective solution. But beware, past experience can also be an obstacle to creative thinking and to tackling the problem at all. One of the most commonly heard reasons for not trying something is we have tried that before and it didn't work. Just because a solution was not right for one situation, it doesn't mean that it will not be right for this one.

In order to improve your problem-solving skills, you have to maximise your ability to think creatively. But there are many barriers. Examine the list below. How many of these do you suffer from?

You become trapped in a fixed way of thinking about things.

You restrict the free growth of ideas within rigid boundaries.

You are unaware of the assumptions you are making, which restrict new ideas.

You think in terms of either/or when there may be other ways of looking at things.

You think sequentially, rather than laterally, looking for the best idea, rather than a range of options.

You suffer from premature evaluation, ie not giving your imagination enough time to look at things differently.

You tend to want to conform and give the answer expected.

You are fairly conservative.

You fear looking foolish

If you recognise some these barrier then you are probably not exploiting your full creative potential. It may be that you are good at solving problems. But there could be a number of tricks that you are missing. You need to identify the boundaries you are operating within and challenge them. Understand the traps you are likely to fall into and be alert to them.

Creative thinking techniques:

Incubation: relying more on the intuitive and imaginative part of the brain, instead of the logical, rational bit. Many of us have our best ideas when relaxing, drinking or lying in the bath. This is why it s important to take time off, so that your mind has had a chance to work on the issue.

Image-based techniques: using pictures, analogies, humour and generally putting the sensible approach to one side for a while. Getting people to draw the situation, or enact it, can isolate issues which could no have been identified by conventional means. Such"silly" techniques often generate the best, most practical, solutions.

Lateral thinking: addressing a problem laterally as opposed to vertically or logically. This includes deliberate and provocative challenging, sideways leaps and rejection of yes/no thinking.

Influence and persuasion

The way in which people influence others tends to fall into two categories: push techniques and pull techniques. The first is a more active. It may be that you have marshalled all the facts and figures, and you can back your argument up to the hilt. Another type of push is that of carrot and stick - people know what you want them to do, what they will get if they do it, and also what they'll get if they don't!

The pull techniques are more subtle. They tend to be associated with creating a desire for the individual to be part of "the club" - getting people to buy into their company's vision would be an example. Pull techniques are characterised more by listening than talking, and by building on other people's good ideas.

When you use these techniques depends on the subject matter, and the subject. Are you dealing with someone who loves targets and responds to the threat of a kick up the backside? Or is it an individual who would prefer a softer touch? By selecting the right approach, you will be able to influence events far more effectively.

Internal issues

Perhaps you lack confidence Or maybe you are working on a hunch - if so beware because could find yourself working on all sorts of false assumptions. In extreme situations, your behaviour could even strike others as paranoid, or at least highly unreasonable. Another self-imposed brick wall is the feeling of having come to a standstill. Perhaps hou have run out of steam, after a really gruelling project. Or maybe your creative juices have temporarily dried up. Even more common is "analysis paralysis", when people are so burdened by the data they have collected that they are unable to do anything constructive with it. There is nothing like cultivating a positive mental attitude. Are you the sort of person who is always telling yourself you're a failure, that you're not going to be able to cope, that you hate your job and your life, for that matter? If so, this is sapping your energy. Tests have consistently demonstrated that, if an individual thinks negative, demeaning thoughts about themselves, they can physically be pushed around. Alternatively, if they talk themselves up, they actually become stronger. And the physical side is only one aspect. Thinking positive thoughts can make you more self-confident and more able to take control of your life.

Loserspeak

People with a negative mindset are often characterised by "loserspeak" - looking on the downside of everything and taking things personally. When confronted by a problem, do you recognise any of these responses? The bold type represents loserspeak. The italics an equivalent phrase in winnerspeak.

Oh no, not again!

Ah, this is the same thing that happened last time I know what to do.

Why is this always happening to me?

Sorting out problems like this is part of my job. And others get their fair share of problems too.

We'll never get this done in time.

What do we need to do to get this done in time? If only I could be more like so-and-so So-and-so's good at this, I can go and ask him/her.

Re-framing the things you say and the way you think can have a profound impact on the way you approach problems. Solving them successfully boosts self confidence, so the positive response gradually becomes your normal response. Suddenly you can see ways of scaling even the most daunting of those brick walls.

The authors are directors of the business psychology consultancy Nicholson- McBride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence