I have talked about problem solving every day for years and years, working with teams and individuals find solutions that improve their businesses. I like to think I have empathy and value the needs of the people and organizations I work with, taking time to appreciate their experiences, feelings and concerns. Working with people is how we unlock the nuggets that will lead to innovation and solutions to grow the business for years to come. I feel your pain.

The Pain of Problem Solving and Change

As is the norm in all small businesses, recently, I had cause to make changes and improvements within my business. If I am honest, it was a problematic, unsettling and emotional experience. I did all the right things, acknowledged and committed to the need for change, engaged experts for help and welcomed their suggestions rather than responding, ‘yes but.’

Despite all of my great intentions, I still found the work profoundly troubling and extremely hard. I might even have become a bit of grump at home. The point is, it deeply affected me.

Why?

This article is a result of how I felt during the change, probably a classic piece of distraction work. I even found my tax return a fun activity. It occurred to me, ‘is this how my customers feel when I am working with them, or they are planning change?’ The change was ‘attacking’ my core’ beliefs. My entire metal model, viewpoints, habits, ways of working were, and plans were, and continue to be questioned, and it’s a very unpleasant feeling.

And how do you feel about that? Not great, all sorts of emotions arrived. A feeling of been undermined, overwhelmed, lost, incompetent and less than or just a bit cross and angry. Physical attributes started to show, a sense of fatigue suddenly kicked in, stress headaches and disrupted sleep. Emotions influence and change our behavior; maybe I was bit grump rather than a model of patience. At work, we can be protective of ideas or our work, argumentative or possibly shut down and retreat within ourselves.

Knowing the Problem, Not the Answer

When improving my business, I spent a long time thinking, I know and feel the problem, but I don’t know what the answer is. It was both frustrating and a worry. I felt exposed, rather like a crab when it sheds its shell; my protective shield had gone, and my business was at risk until I found the solution. It’s no surprise if we are doing something new, why should we suddenly expect to know the answer without having to spend time working it out. We feel uncomfortable because we don’t have any experiences to draw on and feel exposed.

As an adult, our problem-solving approach is to look at past experiences and apply or extrapolate. If these very experiences are in question, we have no reference points, no wonder then we feel lost.

I love a Parkrun, and from to time achieve a personal best (PB) time. Sometimes when a PB looks like its on, I have thought to myself, this is a new experience, I have never run 5k this fast in my life. I have zero experience in how I ‘should’ be feeling or what I ‘should’ be doing. My only option is to be present and respond to events as they evolve. 

Helping People Through Problem-Solving and Change

Formal Change Management will help. My tips for a more straightforward, more human approach to managing our change or assisting people.

1. Acknowledge How You Feel and Get It Out

Our head will be full of stuff, a noisy, messy and unorganized place, aka washing machine head. Some noise will be resentments towards the change, fear of the future and some genuine new thoughts about how we solve the problem. It costs energy carrying this stuff around with the constant churning, processing and repossessing running in the background. Get it out, see what it is, move on, you can always go back and ‘play’ with the noise if you want. With a clear head, we are more able to deal with new ideas openly and constructively.

2. Stick At It, Break Things Down

If it’s overwhelming, try small chunks then stop. For me, this gives my brain a chance to catch up with the new thinking.

3. Talk It Through and Ask for Help

If we have no reference points, then we can be stuck in our one-way system, just following the same thought processes that will lead us to the same conclusion. The simple act of saying something out loud can be enough to trigger a massive ‘light bulb,’ I get it moment.

4. Use the Tools, Even If They Are Annoying

Many change, problem-solving or innovation activities will have some kind of template. Use them, even if you hate them with a passion, stick with it. The structure will help organize noise and keep prodding that awkward thing you don’t want to address.

Try not to view it as form filling, and don’t overthink it. Pick the tools up, play with them, and put them down, overtime insights will reveal themselves.

5. Return to the Why

When you get lost, need a boost or to recalibrate, return to why. Why is the change needed, what is the vision, what is the upside, and how do you feel about that?

The Bottom Line

The point of the article is to say change is hard, even if we want to change, and that’s ok. If we are working in teams or making changes at work, don’t underestimate how people might be feeling. The change may be having a profound impact on our work colleagues, mentally, physically and behaviorally, and they may or may not choose to share this.

Our actions have a significant impact on how people process change. We can not do it for them, they have to do the work, but we can help by being open, honest and acknowledging how people are feeling. Explore these 10 problem-solving tips for more advice you can use in your business.