How To Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills (And Why They Matter)

by HR Team on January 31, 2012

Become a great problem-solverRegardless of your industry or job, demonstrating effective problem-solving skills is not only a great professional trait; it can help you climb the career ladder, too. Think about it — the higher you go in a company, the more likely you are to encounter problems of varying sizes. Demonstrating that you can quickly and efficiently solve these conundrums can prove that you’re ready to handle the challenges that come with a higher position — and more responsibility.

What if you feel like your problem-solving skills aren’t up to par? Sure, some people have an inherent knack for finding solutions to complicated situations. But there are also some things you can do to sharpen your skills and make your problem-solving aptitude stand out — four things, to be exact, according to Steve Tobak of CBS MoneyWatch.

Set up expectations with key stakeholders. As you prepare to tackle a problem, inform key stakeholders what to expect throughout the process, including your methodology, an approximate timeline and what, if anything, you’ll need from them. Don’t try to make yourself stand out by overcommitting — there’s nothing worse than setting high expectations and then under-delivering. Instead, be honest and forthright, and keep these people in the loop with regard to your progress.

Get a clear picture. Before you begin, take the time to get a clear, objective and even candid picture of what’s happening. You’ll need to have access to any and all people involved in the situation. And although it will take more time, plan to set up meetings with involved parties in a one-on-one setting. Individuals will be much more likely to give you a full scope of information if they feel secure that the dialogue is in confidence.

Create your team and a task list. There’s strength in numbers, so if it’s appropriate for the situation, you may want to put together a team to help solve the problem. Once the team is formed, sit down together to develop a strategy for how you’ll move forward and reach a solution.

Go to work. Now that you’ve got a plan and a team in place, it’s time to tackle the problem and execute your strategy. As Tobak writes, this can be tricky for a lot of people who may be good at coming up with a plan but fail to get the necessary work done. If you’ve identified this as your weakness, be sure to surround yourself with people who can complete the tasks. After all, this is a key part of the process, so be sure that you — and your team — can do what it takes to finish.

Whether you’re tackling a problem that’s large or small, keep this in mind. You’ll likely make some mistakes as you continue to hone your problem-solving skills. Don’t look at them as career-ending moves; instead, think of them as learning opportunities that you can use to improve your traits or tactics that need some work.

When you’re presented with a problem at work, what are some ways you reach a solution? We’re interested in hearing about your personal experience.

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