When most people hear the phrase “problem-solving skills,” they think only of an individual’s skill set. However, most problems are complex and varied — otherwise, they would not remain problems for long — and a single person cannot address them alone. Increasingly, modern professionals are concentrating on collaborative problem solving to resolve challenges that are beyond one person’s ability to overcome. While this is a simple definition, the practice of solving problems as a group is more complicated.

When solving a problem on your own, you only have to deal with your motivations and objectives. Collaborative problem solving, in contrast, almost always involves negotiation. The approach includes multiple stakeholders, each with his or her own expectations, and relies on compromise and teamwork to address problems.

The Problem of Positional Bargaining

Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren, writing about the process of collaborative problem solving, contrast negotiation with positional bargaining. Positional bargaining, they argue, occurs “When we insist on our position as a way to solve the problem.” In this type of bargaining, “in order for one party to be satisfied with the outcome, the other party must be dissatisfied.” Collaborative problem solving, on the other hand, focuses on negotiation and interests so all stakeholders walk away happy — or at least content.

Growing Your Problem-Solving Skills

Negotiation is an art, but it can be learned. Collaborative problem solving moves through distinct steps to ensure all stakeholders are satisfied with an approach to the problem. According to the Collaborative Leaders Network, there are nine distinct stages to this approach to problem solving. While the specifics of these stages are beyond the scope of this article, collaborative problem solving involves listening, first and foremost. Listening is not just hearing but really attempting to understand the various interests of all stakeholders.

Listening is a trainable skill, as are the other practices and procedures involved in collaborative problem solving. One place where these skills are explicitly taught is in MBA programs, and as more and more online MBA programs make this type of education accessible, many industries are seeing the benefits of employing collaborative problem solving. Doing so avoids the pitfalls of positional bargaining. According to Windle and Warren, when organizations use this approach, stakeholders are more efficient, they avoid oversimplifying solutions, and their relationships are not as strained as they would otherwise be.

Learn about the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi online MBA program.