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8 Steps to Improve Problem-Solving Skills for the Workplace

8 Steps to Improve Problem-Solving Skills for the Workplace

Jason Patel
Jason Patel
Founder of Transizion

When employers are surveyed about the most important soft skills for employees, problem-solving almost always tops the list.

 

Problem-solving is a universal job skill. In any line of work, challenges will arise. 

 

In my company, Transizion, my team and I solve problems each and every day. We’ve built our skills to tackle all types of obstacles. But it’s a time-consuming process that you need to be committed to. 

 

Strong problem solvers can expertly navigate unexpected issues. They also find creative solutions that improve processes and make them more efficient. 

 

Boosting your problem-solving skills will make you a more effective employee and a more competitive candidate.

 

So, how can you get started?

 

Try the simple activities below to become a problem-solving pro. 

 

1. Play Games That Stimulate the Brain

 

Challenge your brain with logic puzzles, sudoku, chess, or a Rubik’s cube. These brain teasers require both analysis and lateral thinking. Lateral thinking means solving problems with a more creative approach.

 

You’ve probably heard the term “Use it or lose it.” When we don’t confront challenges or think creatively, our ability to do so declines. 

 

On the plus side, our brains are neuroplastic. They shift and change in response to our experiences and activities. When you consistently stimulate your brain with logic puzzles, your neural pathways become faster, stronger, and smarter. Solving problems becomes easier.

 

2. Stay Active

 

They say the best exercise for the brain is exercise. Numerous studies suggest that exercise positively impacts memory and thinking skills.

 

In fact, regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in learning and memory.

 

Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety while improving mood and sleep. Naturally, this results in clearer thinking. 

 

Dancing, yoga, and strategic, fast-moving sports like soccer have also been shown to strengthen cognitive skills.

 

If you want to improve your ability to solve problems, get up and get moving!

 

3. Observe How Others Solve Problems

 

Do any of your colleagues have strong problem-solving skills? It’s helpful to observe their process and take note of how you can improve your own skills.

 

If possible, ask some of your more experienced co-workers about their problem-solving process. 

  • Is there a specific way they approach problems? 
  • How have they honed their skills? 
  • Do they have tips for improving your abilities in this area?

 

4. Learn a Problem-Solving Process

 

Often, out-of-the-box thinking is the best way to find new, innovative solutions to workplace problems. But having a clearly defined process is a great way to start improving your skills.

 

Here’s a typical problem-solving process you can practice:

  • Define the problem. What is the problem? Who or what is it affecting? How serious is the problem?
  • Determine what caused the problem. When did this problem occur? Why and how did it happen? Are you missing any information? If so, how can you gather more info? 
  • Brainstorm solutions. What are some potential solutions to this problem?
  • Evaluate your options. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option? Can any of these options be combined? Which option(s) would most likely lead to your desired results?
  • Choose an option. Why is this solution the best one? How will you put the solution into action?
  • Measure outcomes. What results are you hoping for? How will you know when the problem has been solved? Is your solution working? If not, what other options will you try?

 

If you often feel overwhelmed by challenges, this structured process can help you tackle them one step at a time.

 

Need a CIA-approved problem-solving hack? Try the Phoenix Checklist—a handy tool CIA agents use to tackle unexpected problems!

 

5. Focus on Solutions

 

When we focus too heavily on a problem, our brains struggle to find solutions. Focusing on the problem activates negative thinking. In turn, negative thinking stimulates the fight or flight response or emotional reactions such as blaming. 

 

Your brain power then goes to answering questions like: Why does dumb stuff like this always happen? Whose fault is this? How can I prove it’s not my fault? 

 

Instead, save your energy for the important question: How can I solve this problem?

 

Remain calm. Once you’ve defined the problem, move on to solution-focused thinking. Instead of getting upset or finding fault, search your brain for helpful answers.

 

6. Ask “Why?”

 

Asking, “Why?” can help you get to the root of the problem and find an effective solution. 

 

Let’s say your problem is that you’re frequently late to work. Why?

 

  1. You always turn off your alarm, telling yourself, “I’ll get up in five more minutes.” Why do you have difficulty getting up when your alarm goes off?
  2. You don’t get enough sleep. Why?
  3. You stay up too late. Why?
  4. Maybe it’s because you drink too much caffeine during the day. Or you spend too much time scrolling through social media in bed. 

 

Now, you can find a solution. 

 

Have a cut-off time for caffeine and social media. Then you’ll sleep better, which will make it easier to get up in the morning and arrive to work on time.

 

Of course, this is a simple example. But asking “why” can always help you discover the root cause of an issue. And unless you’re addressing the root cause, you can’t truly solve the problem. 

 

7. Try a Brain Dump

 

When brainstorming, a brain dump is usually the way to go. We often second-guess ourselves with thoughts like, “I’m not sure this will work,” or, “Maybe this idea is stupid.” 

 

With a brain dump, you list everything that comes to mind. Literally. All of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s silly or unreasonable or just plain impossible. The goal is to stimulate creativity. 

 

Ask yourself “What if…” or “Imagine if…” instead of shutting down your thought process with negativity. 

 

Once you’ve recorded all your ideas, sift through them to find the best options. 

 

8. Seek Out Opportunities to Solve Problems

 

Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes progress. Improve your problem-solving skills by practicing them consistently.

 

Look for opportunities to solve problems. Ask to join or sit-in on brainstorming sessions. Volunteer for new projects and put yourself in new situations.

 

Start approaching everyday challenges with a “what if” mentality. Seek fresh ideas and solutions, and jot them all down in a journal.

 

Over time, you’ll become more comfortable making decisions and more adept at solving problems.

 

So, what do you think?

 

What’s a major problem or challenge you’ve tackled at work? How did you solve it?

 

What tips have helped you improve your problem-solving skills?

 

Let’s talk about it!

 

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Jason Patel
Jason Patel
Jason is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company. Transizion features a 100% satisfaction rate with students, parents, and professionals. Jason and his company have been featured in the BBC, Zety, Washington Post, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, and a number of other great outlets. Their goal is to help close the Opportunity Divide in America.
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