June 18, 2024

We solve problems and make decisions everyday in our lives. Some problems and decisions are very mundane and insignificant, while others can be monumental and life changing. Solving problems and making good decisions is crucial in our lives. Our decisions and problem solving abilities are affected by a lot of factors that we encounter. Our position and situation in life along with time, and stress can play a large role in our outcomes. As a mediator and conflict coach, I have seen many clients get hung up by decision obstacles’ that have hindered their ability to resolve their conflict or problem. This article will look at five obstacles that can affect our problem solving and decision making ability. These five are based off of my experience as a facilitator, mediator, and coach. They are five common obstacles’ that I have personally seen that have stunted progress and good decisions.

These obstacles if unrecognized can hinder us in solving problems and making good decisions in our lives.

Mental Set:
One of the most subtle and most common obstacles’ that I encounter is called Mental Set. Mental Set is the tendency to perceive problems in particular ways. Set determines which information we tend to retrieve from our memory to help us find a solution. We may apply our training, a formula, or a model that can help us problem solve. This is helpful when we have a problem that we need to face. However sets can also create obstacles, especially when a novel approach is needed.

Sometimes we may fail to recognize that problems do not match our sets. Thus we begin to make poor decisions, and use problem solving skills that do not match up with the particular problem. It is always good to remember not to assume that all problems can be solved using our mental sets. Thus we need to be flexible and able to recognize differences and changes in problems.

Functional Fixedness:
Another problem solving obstacle is functional fixedness. Functional fixedness is the inability to recognize familiar uses of tools, concepts, for uses other then what we typically use them for. Thus we may be unable to see other creative uses for tools, concepts, and other items to solve problems. The more we use an object one way, the harder it is to see new uses for it because we have assigned a “fixed function” on the object. I have seen parties and clients unable to recognize solutions that may be right in front of them because they only saw concepts, tools, and objects in familiar ways. This can be tough to overcome, because we train ourselves to see things one way. It takes creativity, and openness to move past this obstacle. Furthermore, it is always important to be open and flexible to find new uses of objects to help solve problems.

Confirmation Bias:
Confirmation bias is a very typical obstacle for many people. Confirmation bias is the tendency to notice and remember evidence that supports our beliefs and to ignore evidence that contradicts them. People tend to look for evidence that validates them and their world view. So when we are making decisions and problem solving, we have a tendency to make evidence fit our desired outcome. This can be dangerous because we ultimately can make a decision not based on evidence, but rather on our biases and view. Sometimes we can get our identity tied up in an expected outcome, and being wrong becomes tied to our identity and character. Thus we begin not looking for good solutions but rather we end up trying to support our “personal rightness”. Thus when we are looking to make decisions, we need to be aware of our biases, likes, and dislikes and be open and honest with ourselves and the evidence that we find.

We also have the tendency to make decisions and solve problems based on the information that we have available at the time. This problem is called availability. Sometimes we may need to make quick decisions, or only have limited information to work with, but most of the time we can gather more information and opinions to help us make an informed decision or to solve a problem. I have seen many conflicts and problems arise from good intentioned people who just made quick decisions based on the available information. They did not take the time to research the problem and all available solutions. This obstacle not only can hurt us, but also others who are affected by our actions. Thus we need to be aware of this tendency and ask ourselves, “What else is there to know,” or “where can I get more information.” It is easy to dismiss the need for additional information, but we have to remember that in doing so it can be very costly.

Not Weighing Consequences:
Another obstacle to decision making is not weighing consequences. Sometimes we see a solution or decision that we really like and we will commit and jump in before we consider how that solution or decision will impact our lives. We may really like our conclusions but fail to recognize that it will limit or change other aspects of our lives that we may not have intended. Thus it is important to flesh out or decisions and solutions to see how they will ultimately impact our lives.

In my experience as a mediator and facilitator, I have seen many conflicts; poor decisions, and outcomes come from the above problem-solving obstacles. Many of these obstacles can be avoided by simply having an awareness of them. This can make a big difference in our decision making ability. By understanding that we all have obstacles that keep us from solving problems and making good decisions, we take a step closer to successful outcomes. Taking to time to recognize our obstacles will help be better problem solvers and make better decisions.