The Simplest Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

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Have you ever been highly trained for a position only to find that when you actually dive into the job, all kinds of things come up that require quick decisions and problem-solving skills that you weren’t ever trained for?

Problem-solving skills are part of everyday living and are necessary for all aspects of life. They aren’t just for solving math and science problems. They’re needed for all kinds of positions such as doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, construction workers, and professional drivers.

If you’re a creative person, you have the ability to be an excellent problem-solver. Anyone can sharpen problem solving skills using the power of the mind.

1. Have a healthy frame of mind.

Try not to panic or play the victim . Don’t think, “Why me?” Think, “How can I resolve this?” The two things to always bring into the situation are positive thinking and open-mindedness.

2. Keep emotions out of it.

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. This is exactly why a stable frame of mind is paramount. Remember that for every problem there is a solution. Don’t get tunnel-visioned so that the problem is magnified. Problem-solving skills are one of the traits of successful people.

3. Know when to speak up and when to keep a problem to yourself.

Sometimes, alerting others of a problem that you’re experiencing breeds additional drama. However, often times in the business setting, it’s wise to alert superiors and co-workers so that they can assist in solving it before the problem escalates. If you’re not sure whether to speak up, check office regulations, or perhaps wait until you can make an informed decision.

4. Define the problem clearly.

Before beginning, make sure you completely understand exactly what the problem is . Sometimes it looks like there’s a lot of problems, but it’s actually just one with a lot of symptoms. Try to find the root cause of a problem instead of looking at a myriad of symptomatic issues. Ask questions like these:

–  What is the real problem?

–  What assumptions am I making that could be biased or inaccurate?

–  Where’s the latest information/research/data on this subject?

–  How long do I have before this becomes a bigger issue?

–  Can I ignore this problem?

–  Who and what can help solve this?

5. Identify causes… especially the root cause.

Consider how and why it happened. Look at the problem from different perspectives. Play the devil’s advocate. It wouldn’t be considered a ‘problem’ if you knew how to solve it. This is why it’s imperative to consider other views and opinions. Others may see it differently.

6. Gather as many facts as possible.

Collect information based on evidence… not on feelings. It’s easier to come up with problem-solving strategies when you’re not emotionally charged. An informed mind is much more capable of resolution than an uninformed one. Observe what is going right, or the positive aspects of the subject at hand, and to see if it gives ideas of how to fix what’s going wrong. Then, do the same with the negative aspects. Write them down.

7. Brainstorm solutions.

Before brainstorming, make sure you’ve clearly defined the problem and gathered solid facts. Ask others for input. Often how others view something is completely different than how you viewed it because you might be too close, tunnel-visioned, or too emotionally charged to make distinctions between the facts and exaggerations.

8. Make a decision as soon as possible.

Procrastination is not your friend when it comes to problem solving. When a problem is avoided it either becomes a larger problem or splits into many problems. Be diligent about defining the problem and gathering solid information so that you can brainstorm effectively.

9. Assign responsibility for who does what in the resolution.

Know what prompts your abilities and/or the abilities of your team. Use outlines, graphic organizers, color codes, charts, tables, graphs, and spreadsheets. Any of these tools can help organize and plan out the steps required for whatever solution you decide on. They can also ensure that you don’t get sidetracked and focus on things that are irrelevant to the original problem.

10. Set standards to measure progress and/or deadlines for completion/resolution.

Establish criteria that proposed solutions must meet. This way, if you implement a plan of action and you monitor the results, you will see before you become frustrated whether it’s working or not. If it’s not working, you waste less time.

11. Take actions that are focused on a solution.

Select your solution and begin making a step-by-step plan of action to solve the problem. By making a plan, this promotes implementation of the solution. Remember to remain focused on one thing at a time.

12. If you can’t find a solution, go back and define what the problem is.

When problems cannot be solved, it is usually because they weren’t clearly identified. Anytime you hear someone say they’ve been dealing with a problem for quite some time, often the reason is because they haven’t slowed down long enough to carefully define the actual problem.

If problem solving skills are a challenge for you, just follow these steps.  Before long, you will become an excellent problem solver and an asset for any team, business, or organization.

Find out why solving problems often takes a team .

Featured photo credit: Marco Bellucci via http

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