Career Woman

Solving problems skills can be improved: How good are yours?


If you want to go far in life, you need to have good solving problems skills, whether it’s at home or at work. Luckily, life gives us plenty of opportunities to hone these solving problems skills, and sometimes it feels like we’re being tested more than others. You might never exactly welcome the arrival of a new problem – unless you’re Sherlock Holmes – but they certainly present a chance to shine, especially in the workplace.

How good are your solving problems skills?

However, you can only shine if you’re an efficient problem solver, and this is a skill that there are few courses you can take to improve your abilities and techniques. It’s also one that lacks professional qualifications, so how do you even actually know if you’re good or bad at it? As it happens, there are believed to be three main types of problem solver, so why not see which type fits your style best?

The 3 types of solving problems skills

Here are the types of solving problems skills that have been identified:

  • Systematic solving problems skills – This type of person is very efficient when it comes to tackling problems. They take their time to evaluate them and each potential solution, rather than rushing in headlong. When a problem has been resolved, they stick to the task until processes have been put in place to stop it happening again.
  • Intuitive solving problems skills – By contrast, this person lacks the patience to really investigate a problem properly, preferring to go with their gut instinct. If their instincts are good, this might work well more often than not, but there’s no consistency, let alone any thought for the future.
  • Inconsistent solving problems skills – This is probably where most of us fit. We know that we should be systematic, but the temptation to go with our gut and avoid all those boring processes and procedures can just be too much. With a bit more discipline and some clearer objectives, we can definitely do better.

How do you know which type you are?

Let’s start at the beginning. Someone has brought a problem to your attention, which needs solving as soon as possible. What’s your first move? Is it to sit down and start investigating the problem as well as mapping out potential solutions with a dedicated thought process to determine which will be the most efficient? Or do you grasp at the first idea that comes to mind and get started, eager to resolve the problem as quickly as possible? What’s more important to you, getting it done quickly or getting it done right?

What happens when you come across obstacles? Have you planned for how you will deal with these, or are they unexpected diversions that you need to resolve? If you come across a tricky complication, do you switch to another plan quickly or work hard to sort it out? If you get stuck, do you welcome input from others, or prefer to soldier on with your ideas alone? And finally, when it is sorted out, what happens next? Do you just move onto the next issue and forget about this, or do you set time aside to make sure it never happens again?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it should be fairly easy to see which of the three types of problem solver you are, but if you aren’t happy with the revelation, what can you do about it?

How to develop better solving problems skills

Don’t worry, no matter what kind of problem solver you are, there’s always ways you can improve your solving problems skills. If you’re an intuitive problem solver, one step you need to take is to start fully exploring problems before trying to fix them, and if you’re not sure how, try writing down: what the problem is; what it involves; what the potential consequences are; and how it makes you or other people feel. Don’t let yourself get bogged down though, set deadlines for coming up with decisions, with no more than two minutes for smaller issues.

When it comes to coming up with ideas for solutions, try brainstorming on your own, which can often prove to be more successful than working in a group. Once you have some suggestions, use a decision matrix to see how they measure up, with each solution in a row and columns for the essential criteria they need to be scored against. This is a quick and easy visual way to work out which solution is likely to be the most efficient.

Other tools you can use to help with finding solutions include cause and effect analysis, using a fishbone diagram to map out the problem and its causes, as well as CATWOE, a technical analysis method where you ask yourself six key questions that will help you gain a better perspective. Try putting these tips into action the next time you come across a problem that needs solving and you – and your bosses – should see the difference straight away.

About Beverly Clair'

Beverly Clair is a strategist at Neomam Studios

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