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By ITS Education Asia

[Problem Solving Guide-Home]

Once you have decided on a solution to a particular problem you may need to obtain other people's cooperation, approval or authority in order to implement it successfully. With routine problems, where there is common understanding of what is involved, this is often straightforward and simply involves notifying the relevant people of your decision and how it will affect them. However, with complex and uncommon problems, and where major change or extensive use of resources is required, you should plan how to present your solution effectively.  It is important though that you:

  • understand the reasons why people may oppose and possibly reject your solution
  • prepare a presentation which optimises the chances of your solution being accepted
  • deliver your presentation effectively.

It can be frustrating to have to consult other people before you can implement a solution. In some situations this irrita­tion is justified, such as when your manager has demanded consultation before you reorganise your workload, even though it doesn't affect other people. On other occasions it is in your own interests to consult others. Unless you get the agreement of those who have the authority to sanction your proposed actions you may be prevented from implementing the solution, and without the commitment of those involved in the implementation it may not be entirely successful.

getting agreement

Reasons for opposition to a solution

There are many reasons why people may oppose a solution presented to them. Not all of these are related directly to the ideas and actions concerned. They include:

A poor solution - Any solution which does not deal with the problem effectively, or is impractical, or does not take into consideration all the relevant factors, should be opposed. If the solution does not fit the problem, or has unacceptable side-effects, you should not be proposing it.


Nature of the problem - When a problem is having serious consequences for the people listening to your proposal they will scrutinise it more closely than if the problem is having only minor effects. Similarly, if the people involved have a good knowledge of the problem or aspects of the solution it also will receive close scrutiny. Under these circumstances, any aspects of your solution which do not conform to the ideas or expectations of these people may be opposed simply because of differences of opinion.

Lack of interest in the problem can create opposition when people feel that you are wasting their time by involving them. Lack of knowledge of the problem area can also create opposition if you do not give people sufficient information to be able to understand your reasons for choosing that particular solution.


office conflict

Individual needs and expectations - These can colour people's perceptions of, and reactions to, your proposed solution. For example, an individual who has a strong need to feel independent may oppose any solution which increases collective responsibility or encourages group working. Expectations of the outcome of solving aparticular problem can also create opposition. For example, a person with a grievance against the current method of grad­ing because it places emphasis on qualifications rather than performance is likely to oppose any new grading system which does not increase the emphasis on performance.

Resistance to change - Some organisations. and some managers are strongly resistant to change. In these situations a solution which involves considerable change in the status quo may meet strong opposition, even when it is good and presented well. Some organisations also do not have the structure or resources to accommodate major change and therefore senior management are likely to veto such solutions.

Mistrust of the solution - Many people have an in-built suspicion of solutions which Ire highly innovative, or yield high rewards by a simple method which seems 'too good to be true'.

Poor presentation - You can create opposition by not presenting your solution effectively, eg if you do not identify the benefits sufficiently to outweigh the disadvantages, not showing that you have considered side-effects and risks, giving inadequate informa­tionon or not communicating it effectively so that people either misunderstand or are unable to evaluate the solution.

Poor timing - However sound the basic idea, an ill-timed solution can meet  with opposition, eg proposing a solution which requires permanent additional manpower shortly after redundancies in another department; or suggesting a more centralised management structure when the current policy is to promote greater autonomy of company divisions.

Unsolicited ideas - If you have taken it upon yourself to solve a particular problem or exploit an opportunity and have not mentioned this to the people involved or affected, your solution will come as a complete surprise and could be received in a number of ways. They may be interested without having any intention of adopting your ideas; they may feel that you are interfering and perhaps even criticising them for the way they do things currently; or they may refuse to listen to your ideas. All of these responses are legitimate under the circumstances.

It is a waste of your time and could create antagonism if you try to force your ideas upon others. The only time it is worth presenting an unsolicited solution is when people have answered yes to a question like, 'I think I have found a way to ..., would you be interested in hearing more?'.

Interpersonal conflict - Your relationship with the people you are presenting your ideas to, and their perceptions of you, can have a profound effect on their reaction to your solution. These factors are very complex and often have been created over many years.

For example, a young, enthusiastic manager keen on applying the latest techniques may meet opposition from a more traditional, mature manager who resents the attempt to change things. Similarly, if, at some time in the distant past, you have criticised or rejected someone's ideas, when it is time to listen to your ideas they still may feel resentment and try to block them,

Getting a good solution accepted (you should never try to sell a bad solutionis a matter of persuasive communication and preparation is the key to success. This identifies the best way to communicate your solution.

Why may people oppose your solution?

To identify why your particular solution may be opposed you need to analyse two aspects of the situation:

  • the problem and its solution
  • the people involved and affected.

The problem and its solution

To present your solution persuasively you need to know how the people involved are likely to react to it, so that you an present it in such a way as to prevent opposition. The first step is to list the attributes of the problem and your solution which affect other people. The following questions will help you to explore some of the major factors:

  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What adverse effects are they experiencing?
  • Which of these adverse effects does the solution remove?
  • Does the solution call for major changes, and who will be affected most?
  • Does the solution have adverse side-effects, and for whom?
  • Is the solution unusual, and in what ways?
  • Does its implementation require exceptional cooperation or action by any individuals, and how?

Answering these questions will help you to identify aspects of the solution which are likely to be of most interest to your audience. Some areas of possible opposition may be apparent already, eg if your solution does not deal with all the adverse effects of the problem, those people who will still be affected may oppose your solution.

The people involved and affected

To complete your identification of potential areas of opposition you need to ask yourself, 'how are people likely to react to this solution?' This involves answering questions such as:

  • Do any aspects of the problem or its solution have special significance for them? (eg Does it reflect badly on their previous performance or judgement;
  • does it infringe on their area of operation or detract from their authority; does it compete with their needs for resources?)
  • In what way will they want the situation to change when the problem is solved, and does the solution achieve this?­
  • Will they gain or lose with this solution, how and by how much?
  • Will they want to achieve or gain something for themselves or others through this solution?
  • Do they hold particularly strong views on any aspect of the problem or its solution? (eg Do they have an axe to grind?)
  • Do they have stereotyped views? (eg Favouring the traditional approach.)

You are also one of the people involved, so you need to consider additional factors such as:

  • What is their personal opinion of me? (eg Do any of them have reason to resent or mistrust you?)
  • Are our views of the situation likely to coincide or differ, by how much, and in what ways?

By comparing your answers to all of these questions - about the problem, its solution and the people involved you will be able to identify all the major sources of opposition. Assuming that your solution is timely, sound and deals with the problem effectively, all of these possible causes of opposition can be avoided by the way you present your solution.

Planning your presentation

Your solution may be presented verbally, on a one-to-one basis or in a meeting, or with a written report, depending on the situation. If there is more than one other. person involved, and you have a choice, a meeting gives you the opportunity to get immediate feedback and respond persuasively to doubts and objections. However, most solutions which involve major changes or extensive use of resources are presented in reports. Whichever method you use, there are a number of tactics you can use to encourage acceptance and support of your solution.

Persuading people to accept your solution involves giving them reason to accept it rather than oppose it. This is achieved in a variety of ways:

Anticipate opposition

From analysing the problem, your solution and your audience, you should have a good idea of the opposition that could arise. Prepare responses to questions and objections that are likely to be raised. It's important that you explain the disadvantages as well as the advantages of your solution. If you try to disguise them it will give someone the opportunity to highlight them and create the impression that either you are not being truthful or have not considered the situation thoroughly. If your proposed solution involves major changes you should introduce these carefully, helping the people affected to accept and adjust to them.

Be prepared to listen to objections

Don't try to suppress objections. If you don't give people the opportunity to explain their objections you can create the impression that you are trying to 'gloss over' flaws in your solution and you deny yourself the opportunity to overcome the objections. Never argue with, or try to 'put down' someone who raises an objection. Your earlier analysis should have prepared you to overcome most objections.

Get them involved

Ideally, the best way to gain acceptance and commitment is to involve the relevant people in finding and evaluating solutions to the problem. However, even if you have not done this, there are still ways of getting them involved, eg:

  • give them a role in the presentation, eg explaining how the solution affects their department
  • give them a role in the implementation, either directly or in monitoring its effects
  • allow them to contribute to your plan for implementation.

Get them interested

For people to accept and be fully committed to the successful implementation of your solution they must listen and fully understand the implications of the situation, particularly if they are involved in the implementation. The best way to ensure that they listen is to arouse their interest and one way f doing this is to tell them at the beginning of your presentation how they will benefit.

Demonstrate the importance of the problem

If you can show at the outset that the problem is important, either in its adverse effects or the benefits that could be gained, people are likely to be more interested in hearing how you intend to deal with the situation than if it was a relatively insignificant problem.

Appeal to their self-Interest

Appealing to the needs and desires of individuals is a powerful way of gaining their acceptance, provided your solution does fulfill what you are offering. You should explain how people will benefit by your solution compared with the current situation. There is a wide range of motivating factors you can use, including recognition, security, power, pride, self-respect and reward. A new management structure, for example, could be sold on its more equitable sharing of power, or greater efficiency leading to a reduced workload and larger bonuses.

Justify the resources you want to use

Solutions which tie up resources over a long period of time are often rejected on this criterion alone. Acceptance is more likely if your solution uses resources over a limited period or in short bursts. The greater the resources required the more carefully you need to explain the reasons for using them ie. the benefits to be gained. You must show your solution to be cost-effective, ideally by giving hard facts about the return on investment.

Explain your solution effectively                          ­

The key to a successful presentation lies in the way you explain your solution. You must make it easy to understand, show that it has been well thought out and that it's the best solution available under the circumstances.

Show enthusiasm for your solution

This can be infectious. If you don't show enthusiasm for your solution neither will others.

Be flexible

Be prepared to vary your plan to accommodate individual needs, particularly those of people who are required to take action or provide resources for implementing the solution.

Be prepared to make concessions

One way of encouraging acceptance of a solution is to give way on certain points. This is particularly important where people expect negotiation or bargaining, such as issues concerning union members. To prepare yourself for this bargaining, identify the aspects of your proposal which are not essential to achieving your objective. You can trade these for others which are essential to the success of your solution.

Choose the right moment for your presentation

If you have a choice, make your presentation at a time when your audience will be least distracted by thoughts of other things (eg not just before lunch or at the end of the day), and when they will have time to consider your proposition fully before major interruptions (eg not just before a weekend or holiday).

The final step is to combine all this information into an effective presentation.

Read the next article: Making your presentation

Dulwich College Singapore

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