When an employer asks one of your references about your problem solving skills, what skills do you think they are asking about? In this case, problem solving skills don’t refer to math knowledge.
Problem solving skills are actually a collection of skills.
- The ability to explore a situation and identify what the essential issue really is
- The ability to sort through confusing and conflicting information to gain the critical insights needed to solve the problem
- The ability to identify realistic outcomes that are possible from the situation
- The ability to frame an analysis approach that can be used to test various alternative solutions
- The ability to sort through the pros/cons of various alternative solutions to select the solution that best meets your desired outcome
Does this sound confusing? Think about the process you used in deciding what to have for dinner. You probably use most of these steps.
How do you improve your problem solving skills?
- When confronted with situations, no matter how significant, practice thinking about the five abilities listed above. Over time you will start developing your own repertoire of problem solving skills.
- Think about tough issues that are in the public eye. Pretend you are the decision maker in theses cases, work through what you would do. Contrast your problem solving approach with those who do have the decision authority.
- Examine your own personal barriers in being an effective problem solver. What barriers do you need to overcome?
- Denying there is a problem until it’s too late
- Always selecting the alternative with the least risk
- Unwillingness to honestly consider some alternatives
- Not challenging the information given you
- Not knowing how to reach a desired outcome
- Accepting the first alternative that seems like it may work
- Talk with experienced persons about their problem solving approaches. While they may not have thought a lot about their own problem solving approach, you can gain a lot of insight from them in just listening to them discuss their thought process.
- Read biographies of people who have been called upon to resolve major situations. Leaders of social movements, businesses, and the military are good sources of biographies.
Problem solving is one of those skills that will only come with experience. You can learn a lot from others, but you eventually need to develop your own problem solving approach..