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DEVELOPING PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS

Tim Millett
Published by Tim Millett
08 October 2013

Whether you recognize it or not, we all have problem solving skills. What’s more we use them every day on both a small and a large scale to ensure everything we do is completed to our satisfaction.

Problem solving skills are even more important in a work based environment since they can directly affect the outcome of a particular job or task. Most people in management roles within a company have outstanding problem solving skills (indeed that is one of the things that will have propelled them into that position) but those skills need to be developed over time. They are unlikely to appear spontaneously.

This brings up a key point in this topic which is worth mentioning. While we all have problem solving skills to some extent, we may not all have the experience of using those skills to their fullest at work. This is particularly true of those people who wish to step into management roles in the future.

So how do you develop these skills?

The key is to approach situations in the right way. People who don’t have good skills in this area tend to approach a problem very differently from those who do have good skills. For example they may fret about how they will solve the problem, because they don’t feel able to do it. This is a good way to identify how robust your own problem solving skills are at the moment. Do you feel helpless when faced with a problem? Or do you immediately start thinking about how you could tackle it effectively?

We can see that your point of view is instrumental in the development of your problem solving skills. A pro-active stance is necessary to look at the problem from all sides to determine a way forward that will bring the results you desire.

While some people react to a problem by diving in before they evaluate it properly, others are almost frozen by fear – the fear that whatever they do could result in failure. The correct route to take is a kind of middle ground between these two extremes. You should stand back and evaluate the problem from all sides before thinking of all the ways you could solve it. This is an essential technique to master if you want to further your leadership skills in the future.

The first thing to do is to check that you are focusing on the actual core problem, and not the mess that the problem has created. To do this you have to make sure you gather all the relevant facts.

Having identified the real problem, you then need to brainstorm some possible solutions. Once that is done ask yourself what would happen if you took a particular route over another one. Look at the benefits and the challenges/costs of each solution and then weigh them up. Jot down your thoughts and evaluate them side by side to see which route would be the best one to take. This helps to develop your problem solving skills and gets your brain into the right place to find solutions that are usable and workable. The value of the solution will ultimately be based on how much the benefits you’ve identified will outweigh the challenges/costs.

You may come up with more than one possible solution to a problem. In this case you would need to consider other factors as well before making your final decision on how to solve that problem, such as the amount of time each solution would take to put into practice.

One final point – the speed with which you address problems will both assist in their speedy resolution and also show your substance as a leader.

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