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Problem-Solving Skills: What They Are and How to Improve Yours

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

Problem-solving skills definedImportant problem-solving skillsProblem-solving stepsTips for improving problem-solving skills

Guide Overview

Problem-solving skills in the workplace

Problem-solving skills are a valuable trait that most employers seek in candidates. Being able to effectively solve problems is beneficial in nearly any position and can support a person's overall career advancement. Here we explore what problem-solving skills are, the most important skills in the workplace, steps to solve problems, and tips for improving this skill set.

Problem-solving skills defined

Problem-solving skills are skills that allow individuals to efficiently and effectively find solutions to issues. This attribute is a primary skill that employers look for in job candidates and is essential in a variety of careers. This skill is considered to be a soft skill, or an individual strength, as opposed to a learned hard skill. Effective problem-solving involves several skills within the problem-solving category, and each career may require specific problem-solving skills. For example, a marketing professional will need good communication, research, and creativity skills, all of which fall under the problem-solving umbrella.

Important problem-solving skills

The following are a few of the most important problem-solving skills in the workplace:

Decision-making skills

Decision-making skills are an important component of problem-solving as most problems require decisions to be made in order to address and resolve the issue. Good decision-making skills help professionals quickly choose between two or more alternatives after evaluating the pros and cons of each. Essential skills that fall under this skill category include intuition, reasoning, creativity, and organization.

Communication skills

In order to be an effective problem solver, you must be able to successfully communicate the problem to others as well as your recommendations for a solution. Proper communication can ensure solutions are effectively carried out and that everyone is on the same page regarding an issue. Good communication skills necessary to solve problems include active listening, verbal communication, written communication, receiving and giving feedback, and respect.

Collaboration

Collaboration skills are essential to solving problems as they allow you to work well with others towards a common goal. Nearly all workplace settings require some level of collaboration, making it an essential skill to have for every professional. Good collaboration skills ensure that communication is open, problems are addressed in a cooperative manner, and group goals are placed ahead of personal goals. Important collaboration skills to have in terms of problem-solving include emotional intelligence, curiosity, conflict resolution, respect, and sensitivity.

Open mindedness

Being open minded is another important component of strong problem-solving skills, as you must be able to look at things from different angles and consider alternatives when necessary. Open mindedness is essentially the willingness to look at things from a different perspective and consider new ideas. Characteristics of an open-minded person include curiosity, acceptance, eagerness to learn, and awareness.

Analytical skills

Nearly all problem-solving requires some level of analysis, whether it be simply analyzing the current situation to form a solution or the analysis of data and research related to the problem. Analytical skills allow an individual to better understand an issue and come up with effective solutions based on evidence and facts. Analytical skills that come in handing during the problem-solving process include critical thinking, research, data analysis, troubleshooting, and forecasting.

Problem-solving steps

The following are the primary steps used in the problem-solving process:

  1. Identify the problem. The first step in solving any problem is to first identify it. This stage requires analysis of the current situation, identification of the problem, evaluating why the problem is occurring, and assessing who the problem is affecting. This stage also involves looking at any contributing factors that are directly influencing the problem and where they are coming from.
  2. Look for solutions. The next step in solving a problem is to generate several possible solutions that could remedy the issue. This step often involves brainstorming, prediction, and forecasting and is sometimes done with two or more people. Complex problems are rarely able to be solved by a single solution, so coming up with several potential interventions is the key to success in this stage.
  3. Choose a solution. Once you’ve come up with several potential solutions that could potentially solve the problem, you’ll now need to carefully analyze each solution and select the most appropriate one. This step can take some trial and error, as not all solutions are obvious. This step also requires strong decision-making skills, especially when there are multiple solutions on the table.
  4. Implementation of the solution. After one solution has been chosen, it’s now time to implement this solution to the problem. There should be clearly established benchmarks that will show whether the solution is working along with a plan in case the solution doesn’t work.
  5. Monitoring progress. After the solution has been implemented, progress must be monitored to ensure the solution is effective. You can monitor how well the solution is working as well as ask for feedback from others who are directly affected by the changes that were made. Based on feedback and progress, adjustments may need to be made to continue seeing progress.

Tips for improving problem-solving skills

There are several ways you can work to improve your ability to solve problems, including:

  • Practice. Spending time practicing various problems can help you get more comfortable with the problem-solving process. Consider working with someone else in your field to solve hypothetical problems that are realistic within your industry. You can even role-play with the other person to better develop your problem-solving skill set.
  • Look for chances to solve problems. There are several opportunities to solve problems on a regular basis, both in and outside of the workplace. Consider volunteering to work on a new project or to be part of a committee that works to solve particular problems. For example, you could join an environmental committee that strives to reduce waste in your area.
  • Take a course. Becoming more educated in your field and the best solutions available in your area of work can make you a better problem solver. Consider taking an online or in-person course in your particular career field to learn more about how people in your industry most effectively solve problems.

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