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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.
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From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.
What Is Problem-Solving?
In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.
A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.
Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.
The problem-solving process involves:
- Discovery of the problem
- Deciding to tackle the issue
- Seeking to understand the problem more fully
- Researching available options or solutions
- Taking action to resolve the issue
Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.
Problem-Solving Mental Processes
Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:
- Perceptually recognizing the problem
- Representing the problem in memory
- Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
- Identifying different aspects of the problem
- Labeling and describing the problem
There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.
An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.
In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.
One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.
There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.
Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.
If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.
While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.
Trial and Error
A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.
This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.
In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.
Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .
Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.
How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life
If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:
- Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
- Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
- Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
- Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.
Obstacles to Problem-Solving
Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:
- Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
- Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
- Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
- Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.
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How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:
- Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
- Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
- Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
- Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
- Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
- Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.
You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.
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Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9
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By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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Barriers to Problem Solving
A problem-solving barrier is something that stops people finding a successful solution to a problem. These barriers are often caused by cognitive blocks – how we think and feel – as well as by practical social and physical blocks.
Everybody has cognitive blocks, and each person will have different types and at different intensities. This will influence which barriers we encounter.
It is important that people are aware of the range of barriers, and that the impact they have on problem solving. In this way the barriers can be overcome.
Key Barriers are:
- Confirmation bias
- Functional fixedness
- Unnecessary constraints
- Irrelevant information
What causes these barriers?
Perspective Perspective causes us to see the world in different ways, and from different viewpoints. A marketing officer is likely to see a problem in a different way to a service manager.
Perspective can cause potential solutions to be missed or ignored as unworkable based on our beliefs, attitudes and opinions.
Emotion Emotional blocks are the things that we feel that stop us to problem solve accurately. This could be not suggesting an idea because it may sound stupid, and make us appear silly.
Another example, is fear of change, or feeling guilty that the problem occurred in the first place.
Intellectual Intellectual barriers can be caused by not having the training, skills or knowledge to solve a problem. For example, it could be a lack of skills in evaluation or research etc.
Expression This is about how we express ourselves. Poor expression of problems and solutions lead to misinterpretation and communication.
Many problem-solving techniques often have a way to solve this directly via creating a problem definition and the use of visual techniques. But people may still struggle to come up with an accurate description – using a best fit instead.
These are hindrances caused by the social or physical environment, and impact on our ability to think clearly or to perform a task. For example, a noisy office stops the problem solver being able to concentrate on the task.
However, environmental blocks can also be more practical, e.g. no access to a PC with the correct software. Environmental issues can be easy to overlook and relate directly to external experiences rather than internal thoughts and feelings.
Cultural This works on three levels. One is about how we behave in relation to workplace culture and ethics. For example, in the workplace it may be discouraged to interrupt other employees in the work place, so you feel you can’t approach people to get their input. The next is about our own cultural bias. This includes all forms of discrimination. The final one is about how our own culture expects us to behave.
If you come from a culture where it is encouraged to be reserved, you may have issues sharing your ideas. If you come from a culture where discussion is encouraged, you may diverge from the topic. This often starts with ‘By the way’, ‘Before I forget’, or ‘While I remember’.
Problem Solving Barriers
Different blocks, and combinations of these result in a range of barriers to problem solving. There is no definitive way to link blocks to barriers but some suggestions are provided below.
Confirmation Bias This is about not following the problem solving method, and so introducing bias. This can be the result of missing steps out, or not using them correctly. Confirmation Bias arises when the approach taken is to confirm a preconceived solution.
Basically, you would have found the solution before you found the problem, and perceive the problem solving method through this lens (perspective and intellectual blocks). For example, if you feel you already know everything about the problem, you won’t perform research, or only research things that confirm the appropriateness of the solution you want to use.
Mental Set This comes from relying too heavily on heuristics – the clichés of problem solving, like a ‘rule of thumb’ or ‘common sense’ as a way to solve a problem, rather than actively looking for the best or simplest solution.
It is about reusing what has been successful in the past, rather than assessing and evaluating the problem.
The heuristic for mental mind set could be called ‘why reinvent the wheel’. It relies on previous experiences to direct how a problem can be solved. This could be an intellectual block, as the problem solver is not prepared to learn new problem solving skills, and emotionally relies on familiarity to feel comfortable with a solution.
Functional Fixedness This is about not thinking creatively. It is a narrow mind-set. Functional Fixedness comes from people thinking that an object has only one function.
For example; a jug can only be used to pour fluids; it can’t be used as a mixing bowl. It can be summarized as ‘ You can’t do that ’. Functional Fixedness affects the time taken to make a decision. If you don’t have a mixing bowl, but won’t use the jug, you waste time going to buy a new mixing bowl. Because it relates to objects, often caused by an intellectual or environmental block.
Unnecessary Constraints This barrier causes unwarranted boundaries to be placed on a problem. It links to trying to solve a problem using previous experience of what has worked in a situation and trying to force it to work in the current situation, rather than looking for a new solution.
This inhibits creativity. The barrier can be removed by insight. Most problem solving methods focus on developing insight into a problem – through information gathering, evaluation and assessment.
Unnecessary Constraints could be caused by an intellectual block, or an emotional one causing an over reliance on the known. An example would be trying to improve a service using current procedures and processes, rather than find a solution and design new procedures and processes.
Irrelevant Information This is information that is not needed to solve the problem, often caused by people diverging from the problem itself, onto other topics they feel are related or presenting too much information.
Irrelevant information hinders problem solving as it slows the process down, can cause confusion or misunderstandings.
A brainstorming session can be impaired because people want to go off topic. This is why many brainstorming sessions have a facilitator to get things back on track. When gathering information, it can be getting distracted and looking at something that is interesting but not useful. It can result in too much information being collected, and people having trouble absorbing it.
For example, giving a problem-solving group full copies of all the information found, rather than summarising it as headlines, a graph or a mind map.
This could be an expression block – people struggle to summarise the information, an emotional one – people fear they won’t have enough information, or even a cultural one – full papers are always presented in meetings.
There are a range of barriers to problem solving based on cognitive blocks and practical social and physical jobs. These can be perceptual, emotional, intellectual, expressive, environmental, cultural.
Cognitive blocks are our ways of thinking and feeling. These contribute to how we approach and carry out problem solving, leading to barriers. They usually introduce bias, errors, and result in imperfect solutions. These barriers can be removed by awareness of the pitfalls in problem solving, and training in how to use a problem solving method correctly.
You can read more about Barriers to Problem Solving in our free eBook ‘ Problem Solving for Managers ’. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.
- Common barriers to problem solving are cognitive blocks that impede the ability to correctly solve problems.
- These can be perceptual, emotional, intellectual, expressive, environmental, and cultural.
- Everybody has cognitive blocks, and each person will have different types and at different intensities.
- Five of the most common are: confirmation bias, mental set, functional fixedness, unnecessary constraints, and irrelevant information.
- Confirmation Bias arises when the approach taken is to confirm a preconceived solution.
- Mental Set results from reusing what has been successful in the past, rather than assessing and evaluating the problem.
- Functional Fixedness comes from people thinking that an object has only one function.
- Unnecessary Constraints links to trying to solve a problem using previous experience of what has worked in a situation and trying to force it to work in the current situation, rather than looking for a new solution.
- Irrelevant Information is often caused by people diverging from the problem itself, onto other topics they feel are related or presenting too much information.
- These barriers can be removed by awareness of the pitfalls in problem solving, and training in how to use a problem solving method correctly.
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Barriers to Effective Problem Solving
Nov. 21, 2017
Learning how to effectively solve problems is difficult and takes time and continual adaptation. There are several common barriers to successful CPS, including:
- Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only search for or interpret information that confirms a person’s existing ideas. People misinterpret or disregard data that doesn’t align with their beliefs.
- Mental Set: People’s inclination to solve problems using the same tactics they have used to solve problems in the past. While this can sometimes be a useful strategy (see Analogical Thinking in a later section), it often limits inventiveness and creativity.
- Functional Fixedness: This is another form of narrow thinking, where people become “stuck” thinking in a certain way and are unable to be flexible or change perspective.
- Unnecessary Constraints: When people are overwhelmed with a problem, they can invent and impose additional limits on solution avenues. To avoid doing this, maintain a structured, level-headed approach to evaluating causes, effects, and potential solutions.
- Groupthink: Be wary of the tendency for group members to agree with each other — this might be out of conflict avoidance, path of least resistance, or fear of speaking up. While this agreeableness might make meetings run smoothly, it can actually stunt creativity and idea generation, therefore limiting the success of your chosen solution.
- Irrelevant Information: The tendency to pile on multiple problems and factors that may not even be related to the challenge at hand. This can cloud the team’s ability to find direct, targeted solutions.
- Paradigm Blindness : This is found in people who are unwilling to adapt or change their worldview, outlook on a particular problem, or typical way of processing information. This can erode the effectiveness of problem solving techniques because they are not aware of the narrowness of their thinking, and therefore cannot think or act outside of their comfort zone.
According to Jaffa, the primary barrier of effective problem solving is rigidity. “The most common things people say are, ‘We’ve never done it before,’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” While these feelings are natural, Jaffa explains that this rigid thinking actually precludes teams from identifying creative, inventive solutions that result in the greatest benefit. “The biggest barrier to creative problem solving is a lack of awareness – and commitment to – training employees in state-of-the-art creative problem-solving techniques,” Mattimore explains. “We teach our clients how to use ideation techniques (as many as two-dozen different creative thinking techniques) to help them generate more and better ideas. Ideation techniques use specific and customized stimuli, or ‘thought triggers’ to inspire new thinking and new ideas.” MacLeod adds that ineffective or rushed leadership is another common culprit. “We're always in a rush to fix quickly,” she says. “Sometimes leaders just solve problems themselves, making unilateral decisions to save time. But the investment is well worth it — leaders will have less on their plates if they can teach and eventually trust the team to resolve. Teams feel empowered and engagement and investment increases.”
Image Courtesy of Pexels.
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The six main barriers against problem-solving and how to overcome them.
Challenges. Disputes. Dilemmas. Obstacles. Troubles. Issues. Headaches.
- The uniqueness of every different issue makes the need for an also adapted and individualized solution.
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There are more than thirty different ways to call all those unpleasant and stressful situations which prevent us from directly achieving what we want to achieve. Life is full of them. This is why the ability to solve problems in an effective and timely manner without any impediments is considered to be one of the most key and critical skill for resolutive and successful leaders. But is not just leaders or top managers facing the way forward. According to a Harvard Bussiness Review survey , people's skills depends on their level on the organization and their particular job and activities. However, when coming to problem-solving, there is a remarkable consistency about the importance of it within all the different measured organization levels.
There are small problems and big problems. Those ones that we laugh about and those that take our sleep away. Problems that affect just us or our whole company. Issues that need to be resolved proactively and others that require us to wait and observe. There is a special kind of problem for every day of our lives, but all of them responds to a common denominator: addressing them adequately. It is our ability to do so what makes the difference between success and failure.
Problems manifest themselves in many different ways. As inconsistent results or performance. As a failure toward standards. As discrepancies between expectations and reality. The uniqueness of every different issue makes the need for an also adapted and individualized solution. This is why finding the way forward can be sometimes tricky. There are many reasons why it is difficult to find a solution to a problem, but you can find the six more common causes and the way to overcome them!
1. Difficulty to recognize that there is a problem
Nobody likes to be wrong. “Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true,” explains Carol Tavris.
Problems and mistakes are not easy to digest. To reduce this cognitive dissonance, we need to modify our self-concept or well deny the evidence. Many times is just easier to simply turn our back to an issue and blindly keep going. But the only way to end it up to satisfactory is to make an effort to recognize and accept the evidence. Being wrong is human and until the problem is not acknowledged solutions will never materialize. To fully accept that something is not going the way it should, the easiest way is to focus on the benefits of new approaches and always remain non-judgemental about the causes. Sometimes we may be are afraid of the costs in terms of resources, time and physical or mental efforts that working for the solution may eventually bring. We may need then to project ourselves in all the fatalistic consequences that we will finally encounter in case we continue sunk in the problem. Sometimes we really need to visualize the disaster before accepting a need for change.
2. Huge size problem
Yes! We clearly know that something is going wrong. But the issue is so big that there is no way we can try to solve it without blowing our life into pieces. Fair enough. Some problems are so big that it is not possible to find at once a solution for them. But we can always break them into smaller pieces and visualize the different steps and actions that we could eventually undertake to get to our final goal. Make sure you do not lose sight of the original problem!
3. Poorly framed problem
Without the proper framing, there is no certainty about the appropriate focus on the right problem. Asking the relevant questions is a crucial aspect to it. Does your frame of the problem capture its real essence? Do you have all the background information needed? Can you rephrase the problem and it is still understandable? Have you explored it from different perspectives? Are different people able to understand your frame for the problem correctly? Answering to the right problem in the right way depends 95% on the correct framing of it!
'If I have an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution' (Albert Einstein)
4. Lack of respect for rhythms
There is always a right time for preparation, a right time for action and a right time for patience. Respecting the rhythms of a problem is directly link to the success of the solution. Acting too quickly or waiting too long can have real counterproductive effects. There is a need for enough time to gather information and understand all the different upshots of a planned solution. A balance of action is crucial to avoid both eagerness and laxity. Waiting for the proper time to take action is sometimes the most complicated part of it.
5. Lack of problem'roots identification
It is quite often that we feel something is not going the way it should without clearly identifying what the exact problematic issue is. We are able to frame all the negative effects and consequences, but we do not really get to appropriately verbalized what the problem is all together. Consequently, we tend to fix the symptoms without getting to the real causes. It is as common as dangerous and not sustainable for problem-solving.
Make sure that you have a clear picture of what are the roots of the problem and what are just the manifestations or ramifications of it. Double loop always to make sure that you are not patching over the symptoms but getting to the heart of the matter.
6. Failure to identify the involved parts
Take time to figure out and consult every simple part involved in the problem as well as affected by the possible solution. Problems and solutions always have at the core human needs and impacts. Failing to identify and take into consideration the human factor in the problem-solving process will prevent the whole mechanism from reaching the desired final goal.
'We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right - one after the other, no slipups, no goofs, everyone pitching in.' ( Atul Gawande)
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Barriers to Problem Solving
From solving a basic mathematical equation to deciding to buy a house, problem−solving is an integral part of our daily life. These problems can range from minor to major ones, like planning one's future career. The word "problem−solving" in cognitive psychology refers to the mental process that humans go through to identify, evaluate, and resolve difficulties. It is a complex process involving various steps like identifying and understanding the problem, researching appropriate strategies, and taking effective action to solve the problem and reach desired goals.
What is the Meaning of Barriers to Problem Solving?
Understanding the precise nature of the problem is crucial before problem−solving can start. One's odds of successfully resolving an issue increase if their knowledge of the problem is inaccurate. People approach problems in various ways and may utilize various methods, like algorithms, heuristics, insight, etc., to identify and resolve problems. An algorithm is a systematic process that always yields the right outcome. An excellent example of a problem−solving algorithm is a mathematical formula. Although an algorithm ensures accuracy, it is not necessarily the most effective method for addressing problems. Due to how time−consuming this method may be, it is not useful in many circumstances. For instance, it would take a very long time to use an algorithm to discover all potential number combinations for a lock.
Heuristics are mental shortcuts that may or may not be effective in particular circumstances. Heuristics do not necessarily ensure a proper answer, in contrast to algorithms. However, by employing this approach to problem-solving, individuals are able to simplify difficult issues and narrow the field of potential answers to a more manageable group.
Another method of problem−solving is the trial−and−error approach which entails testing a variety of options and eliminating the ones that do not work. This strategy could be a decent choice if you have a small selection of possibilities. Before undertaking trial−and−error, it is preferable to reduce the available possibilities using another problem-solving strategy if there are several options.
Lastly, in some cases, the answer to an issue immediately comes to individuals. This might happen when they recognize that the issue at hand is just a rehash of earlier struggles. However, the fundamental mental processes that result in insight take place unnoticed.
What are Barriers to Problem Solving?
It goes without saying that problem−solving is not a foolproof process. Our capacity to rapidly and effectively address a problem may be hampered by a variety of impediments. These mental barriers include functional fixedness, irrelevant information, assumptions, etc.
Assumptions − People frequently make assumptions about the limitations and barriers that impede specific solutions while addressing an issue or solving a problem.
Functional Fixedness − Functional fixedness is the propensity to perceive issues exclusively in their predetermined ways. Functional fixedness prohibits individuals from completely understanding all of the potential possibilities for a solution.
Unnecessary Constraints − A related barrier is unnecessary constraints that impose arbitrary limitations on an issue or problem. It relates to trying to use past experiences of what has worked in a circumstance to solve an issue and trying to force it to work in the present situation, rather than seeking a new solution. This limits inventiveness. With insight, the obstacle may be removed. The majority of problem−solving techniques center on gaining an understanding of a situation through data collection, analysis, and assessment. Unnecessary restrictions might result from an intellectual or emotional impediment that makes us rely too much on the familiar. An illustration would be trying to enhance a service utilizing the present procedures and processes as opposed to coming up with a solution and creating new procedures and processes.
Irrelevant or Misleading Information − It is critical to discriminate between knowledge that will help one solve the problem and information that won't, as the latter might result in poor solutions. Concentrating on false or unrelated information is simpler when a subject is extremely complicated.
Mental Set − When someone has a mental set, they are more likely to stick with past−effective solutions than consider new ones. An effective tool for problem-solving, a mental set frequently serves as a heuristic. Thought patterns can also be rigid, making it more difficult to develop workable answers.
Confirmation Bias −This is about establishing bias by not using the problem-solving approach. This may be caused by either skipping steps or failing to use them properly. Confirmation When a method is used to support a preconceived conclusion, bias results. In essence, one would have discovered the issue's solution prior to discovering the issue, and one would see the approach to problem-solving from this perspective.
Problem−solving is hindered by a variety of cognitive limitations as well as practical social and physical tasks. Perceptional, emotional, intellectual, expressive, environmental, and cultural factors might all be involved. Cognitive barriers are the patterns of thought and emotion we have. These influence how we approach and solve problems, creating hurdles. They typically provide biased, flawed, and incomplete answers. These obstacles may be overcome by becoming aware of the problems with issue solving and receiving instruction on how to use a solution strategy properly.
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Psych 256: Cognitive Psychology FA14
Making connections between theory and reality, obstacles to problem solving.
Albert Einstein once said, “If I had a hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions”, which I think most of us can relate to. We are constantly faced with problems through out of every day lives, both of big and small magnitudes, that we most find a way to deal with. There is not one right way that is determined to deal with these stressors, and we may use a mixture of coping methods and cognitive processes to get through it.
One of these methods that one may do when faced with a problem is fixation. Fixation is a person’s tendency to focus on a specific characteristic of the problem that keeps them from arriving at a solution (Goldstein, 2011). I found this to be an interesting concept because as I look back at how I reacted during some of the challenges I have faced and I’ll admit that I was fixated on part of the problem rather than looking for a solution. An example that came to mind was when I was having an issue with a supervisor at work. I am very good employee for the company I work for and have many awards for excelling in my field, so my performance was not something that was being questioned but for some reason my new supervisor and I just were not jiving well. It made my workday very stressful and I was constantly on my toes around her. I began to be fixated on how stressful she seemed to be making my life rather thinking of ways I could approach the situation to fix it. I would leave work and rant the whole way home to my fiancé on the different things that happened throughout my day and how my interactions with her had gone. I would express to him out angry it would make me and how much I didn’t like her. God bless him, he sat there and would lent me vent to get all my frustrations out without interjecting his opinions in the middle. Finally, after a few weeks of being agitated at work, my fiancé and I talked about what I could do to get this issue resolved. Instead of stewing about all the negatives of the situations and fixating on every little detail, I was moving out of that fixation stage and moving on to find an answer to my dilemma. Eventually, after taking steps to find a resolution my problem was able to be solved and now everything is getting better.
I can easily see how difficult it is to get stuck and fixate on your problem, no matter what it is. For me, I was feeling hurt, offended, lonely, singled out, inadequate, disliked, and that’s just a few things on my array of emotions scale. The negative feelings I was feeling were easy to feel and quickly built up inside of me and finding a solution felt like unfamiliar territory. I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to make the situation I was in better. The uncertainty of what path I should take delayed my choice to move on and handle the problem.
I recommend that whoever has a tough problem in their path; they should try not to fixate on the problem itself, rather try to think of multiple ways to resolve the problem effectively. Something that has helped me in the past was also researching if other people have had the same or a similar problem to learn what they suggest to do under those circumstances. Sometimes getting someone else’s feedback about the situation would present ideas that normally you may not have thought of. Whatever the problem may be, I hope you can work it out in a manner that suits you and is effective.
Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
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Barriers To Problem-Solving
Problems are inevitable at work. They could be big problems. Or they could be small problems. Either way, the trick…
Problems are inevitable at work. They could be big problems. Or they could be small problems.
Either way, the trick is to develop strong problem-solving skills. But it isn’t always easy to find a solution to a problem. You often face many unexpected obstacles on the way.
Imagine a client rejects a proposal for a marketing pitch you and your team worked hard on. In such a situation, you might come up with a quick and easy alternative to retain the client, but in the scramble, you may forget to assess its long-term potential.
Such barriers to problem-solving abound at the workplace. You need to be prepared for potential pitfalls that could trip you up.
Effective problem-solving in such situations is a handy skill that’ll help you navigate your way through the professional landscape.
You will find some useful tips on how to deal with some common barriers to effective problem-solving in Harappa Education’s Defining Problems course. The course introduces ways in which you can define, identify and deal with problems in a solution-oriented manner.
Contrary to popular belief, problem-solving takes time and patience. This is something we tend to overlook because quick solutions are often rewarded at the workplace where everyone is busy and pressed for time.
When you stop for a moment to think about what went wrong, you’re more likely to come up with a lasting solution. Here are the most common barriers to problem-solving and decision-making in the workplace:
Common barriers to problem-solving include an incorrect diagnosis of the problem. This could be due to preconceived ideas, biases, or judgments. Defining a problem is the hardest step in the process of problem-solving because this is the foundation on which your entire strategy is built. If you’re not careful, you may end up spending all your time, resources and effort on the wrong problem and, eventually, the wrong solution.
Thinking that you know better than anyone else or miscommunicating the problem is another one of the barriers to problem-solving. Everyone defines or understands the problem differently. It’s important to communicate with your teammates so that everyone’s on the same page. If you’re unclear about something, acknowledge your limited understanding of the problem. This will save you both time and energy.
Another common challenge is a solution bias or thinking that one solution is universal and can be applied to multiple problems. If you catch yourself thinking about a problem that you solved in a particular way, you’re already going in the wrong direction. It’s more important for you to focus on the problem at hand than to force-fit a solution from the past that, in all probability, won’t work.
Barriers to problem solving psychology often involve a cognitive bias or the tendency to jump to conclusions. To find a solution as quickly as possible, you might end up with a solution that’s irrelevant to the situation. You have to learn to listen before making a judgment. If you miss a step, for instance, there’s a chance that you’ll end up in an even bigger mess.
Lack Of Empathy
Every problem is in one way or another associated with human emotions, abilities or feelings. If you’re not able to recognize the people who are affected by the problem, you won’t be able to come up with a solution that serves everyone.
How To Circumvent Barriers To Problem-Solving
Some of the ways in which you can tackle common barriers to problem-solving are:
- Be open to suggestions and different points of view
- Accept that you may not know everything
- Be patient and take your time before coming to a conclusion
- Approach the owner of the problem and ask the right questions
- Avoid shortcuts and ‘cut and dry’ formulas
Navigating your way through the complexities of work-life can be daunting, but it’s not impossible. Harappa’s Defining Problems course equips you with the tools you need to recognize a problem for what it is. Learn more about barriers to effective problem-solving and how to identify or define problems to become a skilled problem-solver. With frameworks such as the Problem Definition Framework, you’ll be able to define problems effectively and find constructive solutions.
Explore topics such as Problem Solving & the 5 Whys Analysis from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.
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