Problem Solving

What are Problem Solving Skills ?

In work and in life, problems can crop up. Even if you don’t know how to fix the problem at first, you can think about how the problem happened in the first place. Then you can keep calm and use logic to find some good solutions.
This logical way of looking at things with a clear head is called problem solving. It can be a great way to solve problems without heartache, from dealing with school or college gossip to figuring out next steps if an important parcel didn’t get delivered to work.

Problem solving is one of 5 top Young Professional skills

The 5 top life skills are self beliefcommunicationself managementteamwork and problem solving. Employers love them and so will you. They could change your life! Whatever your interests and background are, sign up to the weekly Young Professional newsletter and start boosting these skills for free today.

Why Problem Solvin Skills are Important

Problemsolving is important both to individuals and organizations because it enables us to exert control over our environment. … Problemsolving gives us a mechanism for identifying these things, figuring out why they are broken and determining a course of action to fix them.

Problem Solving as an ability is a life skill wanted by many, as it is essential to our day-to-day lives. Whether we are at home, or school or work, we are thrown curve balls by life almost every single step of the way.

Problem solving skills in school and education

Are you faced with a problem in homework or even an exam? Have you been asked to put together an argument for an essay or debate?

Even if you don’t know the answer, read the problem several times to make sure you understand all the information being given you. If you’re at home you can research, but in an exam situation try to think about it logically: What are you being asked? How would you go about coming up with a logical solution? If you come with more than one solution, which do you think is the best one and why? If you still don’t know the answer, move onto the next problem and come back and try again with a fresh head.

Many of the problems you face at school can be approached with the five key life skills including motivation, self belief, self management and team working. If the problem involves people, your communication skills will come in handy, too.

With any general problem you come across in life, consider:

  • Will it help to prepare in advance or in an organised frame of mind?
  • Will it help if you approach the problem as a pair or group instead of dealing with it alone?
  • How can you stay motivated to tackle the problem and see it through with a positive attitude?
  • Can you approach the problem logically, letting your head rule your heart? (It is easier to find solutions this way).

Problem solving skills in work

Whenever a problem comes up in work, use this 5-step process to see if you can fix it:

  1. Describe the problem and set a ‘problem statement’.
  2. Analyse what is right and what is wrong in the current situation.
  3. Identify the likely causes of the problem.
  4. Identify the most probable cause and test this out.
  5. Take action to address the problem.

Solving problems can sometimes be an unconscious effort, as we solve problems every day without really thinking about them. It just happens. Nevertheless, in order to be effective at problem solving, some other key skills have to be kept in mind.

  • Emotional Intelligence– It is the capacity to be aware of, or to recognize the emotions of oneself, or others and to handle interpersonal relationships with empathy.  A problem or its solution usually creates an impact on you or others. It is worth considering, as it will help guide you to an appropriate solution. It is imperative to have strong observational skills.
  • Creativity– There are two ways to solve problems, either intuitively or systematically. Intuition is used when no new knowledge is needed which results in a quick decision using common sense or experience. A systematic or logical approach is used if the problems are more complex along with some creative thinking. Using critical thinking and attention to detail helps in assessing the results.
  • Team Work– You may not have all the answers to your problems. That is when the input of other people comes in handy. Whether at home or school, ‘team work’ is an important aspect to problem solving. Someone may be more of an innovative thinker comparatively, so you could play well with the team in order to demonstrate persistence to explore potential solutions. Both communication and negotiation is important at this point.
  • Researching Skills– Solving problems often requires a little bit of research. It can be a simple Google Search or an in-depth research project.
  • Risk Management– A certain amount of risk is always involved when solving problems. The key is to weigh those risks against the problem like a pros and cons list. Then, take the leap of faith.
  • Decision Making Problem Solving and Decision Making go hand in hand as a skill set. In order to solve a problem, a decision has to be made. Sometimes, having enough information about the problem is what can influence a decision. Demonstrating lateral thinking and analytical abilities is important rather than accepting issues at face value. It will help you to assess what is exactly going on.

Problem solving is important in every trade. There is no aspect of life that is immune to the regular onslaught of troubles. Improving your problem solving skills will give you a divergent edge that will certainly make you stand out from the crowd.

How to build and improve problem solving skills

Here are some activities to help you work on your problem solving skills:

Take on problems you enjoy

If you like video games, board games or ‘mind’ games like Sudoku you will find these often have problems that need to be approached in a logical way, with strategic planning and trial and error.

Remember that problems can be physical as well as mental

Do you like working with your hands? Car maintenance, DIY and crafting are just some examples of physical work that involves solving problems.

Demonstrating problem solving skills

Creating a good CV and cover letter

Many of the grades you studied for, work experience you’ve done and even extra-curricular activities you’ve enjoyed have all had problems you had to think about logically in order to find a solution.

Find an example of a problem you solved for each experience you’ve put on your CV.

For each problem, ask yourself how you:

Identified the problem

Defined the problem

Examined the options

Acted on a plan

Looked at the consequences

You don’t need to talk about this on your CV or cover letter, but it will help prepare you for job interviews.

Job interviews

Employers will always be interested to hear how you’ve tackled problems in the past and could ask you to name an example of a problem you solved or overcame in your job interview.

Give them an example from your past school, work or life experience using the IDEAL method above.

Problem solving is a life skill. You can grow it over time.

There are so many chances in life to make a choice to approach problems in a cool, calm and collected way, both inside and outside of work/education.

Next steps

If you don’t think you do an extra-curricular activity that involves problem solving, add a new hobby to your list where solving problems is a part of what’s involved.

Search for “problem solving skills test” online. You will find lots of online quizzes where you can test yourself on how you solve problems, and discover ways in which you could improve.

Activity - test yourself!

See if you can think about the questions below. It’s useful to you to come up with actual examples. It’s also very useful to come up with examples from your own life and work experience.

  1. Why are problem solving skills important to an employer?
  2. How could you develop your problem solving skills? Give an example.
  3. How can you demonstrate good communication skills? Give an example.
  4. How could you demonstrate your problem solving skills to a prospective employer in a job interview? Give an example.
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