What are problem-solving skills in a work context?
Surprisingly, some people who are excellent at solving problems in their personal lives might not be expert problem solvers in the workplace. People who have problem-solving skills in the workplace can handle challenges and adapt well to unforeseen circumstances by calmly evaluating the situation. Because these skills enhance the work and morale of colleagues and help keep companies on track during uncertain times, employers are keen to recruit expert problem solvers.
But problem-solving is not just one skill. Like many soft skills, problem-solving is a big skill created by various smaller soft skills, such as:
- Being an active listener
- Having an analytical mindset
- Having a talent for research
- Tackling problems creatively
- Being a good communicator
- Being able to make quick and effective decisions
In this article, we’ll look into these soft skills that help people become effective problem solvers and explain how candidates can illustrate their problem-solving skills on their CV.
How to be a good problem solver at work
Active listening is important in every aspect of life but is especially important in the workplace. When you listen to an issue presented to you by a boss or colleague, you can take in all the information needed to solve a problem of any size. What’s more, people feel valued when they are listened to. Actively listening means you can slow the situation down, build trust with your team, increase your knowledge of the situation and come up with novel solutions to a problem.
Active listening is also a highly useful skill to have if you regularly have to interview someone for a job (read our handy ‘how to interview someone‘ guide to become a master interviewer).
Someone with an analytical mindset can often solve problems by breaking down the bigger picture into bite-size chunks, dissecting data, and connecting the current problem to previous problems they’ve handled to come up with novel solutions. Analytical thinkers are highly valued as they can logically and effectively deal with problems that might stress workmates or even managers.
Researching a problem is an important step in solving it. By being a good researcher, you can pinpoint the root of the issue and thoroughly comprehend it. There are many ways to research and comprehend a problem. You can start by brainstorming solutions with your team, catching up with more knowledgeable colleagues, or simply reading up on how to handle the issue. There’s a good chance other people have been in your situation.
Some problems don’t have a straightforward solution, and challenging situations often require a creative response. While some people are naturally more creative than others, creativity is a soft skill that can be learnt and sharpened over time. So, if you’re more of a logical thinker, don’t be afraid to experiment with creative solutions and work with more creative colleagues. You’ll likely find that creative and logical thinking will complement each other to find a perfect solution to a problem.
Much like active listening, communication is about working closely with your team to solve a problem. Communicating the details of a problem to others and offering solutions is an effective way to solve problems. Good communication keeps everyone in the loop, ensures everyone agrees on the method of solving a problem and promotes healthy teamwork. Sometimes, a problem might be stressful for people in the workplace. Working together as a team is a healthy way to share the burden.
Making decisions quickly
Although you should never rush to solve a problem, it makes no sense to ruminate too much, either. Some problems, such as delayed orders or customer complaints, need quick resolutions. Thankfully, it’s easy to make quick decisions by drawing upon the skills already mentioned in this post. Learning these soft skills over time will help you jump into action during emergencies.
How to demonstrate problem-solving skills when applying for a job
When applying for a job that requires problem-solving skills, don’t just write that you’re good at solving problems. Instead, break these skills down into the other soft skills mentioned in this post that make you a good problem solver. You should also mention real-life examples when you solved a problem in the workplace. Here’s an example.
While working in my previous marketing role, my team and I had a problem with a lack of engagement on social media. Past experience taught me that fixing this issue would result in heightened brand awareness, more visits to our website and potentially more customers.
To overcome this problem, I set up a meeting with my team and asked them to use their creative skills to pretend they were potential customers looking at our social media channels for the first time. I actively listened to what they thought and soon discovered that our social media pages lacked a real brand identity, and the posts were too sporadic and general to be engaging.
After the brainstorming session, I researched how to make a successful social media page and looked at our competitors’ social media pages to analyse what made them more successful. I found that their success was due to posting diverse content regularly and engaging with customers. Using my research, I created a content calendar and organised further brainstorming sessions to come up with creative posting ideas with my team. Since then, our social media engagement has risen by 20% and is still increasing.
How to improve problem-solving skills in the workplace
As we’ve established, problem-solving skills can get you far in life and at work. However, don’t worry too much if you’re not a natural problem solver, as these skills can be learned and practised. If you want to become an expert problem solver, here’s a good place to start.
Look for problems to solve
Looking for problems to solve doesn’t mean you should try to fix things that aren’t broken. But, if you can see your colleague or even manager fixing a problem, offer them some help. Not only will they be grateful for the offer, but it will teach you problem-solving skills on the job.
Research problem-solving skills
Many recruitment websites have problem-solving scenarios that you can practise. These problems are normally very common in many job sectors. You might be very surprised with just how well you do.
Learn a few problem-solving models
Like a song on a musical instrument, you can learn how to solve problems with various models. Here’s one for you to consider;
- Define the problem
Observe and evaluate the circumstance to get an understanding of what the problem is. Does the problem stem from one issue, or is it a result of many small issues? Most importantly, try to understand the negative effect this problem is having on management, your team and yourself.
- Think of possible solutions
Dig further by talking to your team, finding the underlying cause of the issue and collecting data. You don’t need to solve the problem at this stage. All you’re doing is gathering evidence.
- Assess your solution
Before taking action, you must consider the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Also, ask yourself what tools you will need to execute your plan, how long it’ll take you to implement the solution, and how many – if any – people you need to help you along.
- Put your solution into practice
Before putting your solution into practice, consider the following:
Once this issue is resolved, will it cause or cure more problems down the road? Are your teammates and managers happy to implement this solution? Will putting the solution into practice be too complicated to make it viable? Does the solution adhere to the rules and regulations of the business?
The Bottom Line
Problem-solving is a key skill in any industry because workflows and processes are prone to problems. Thankfully, these are problems that are often easily fixed by using an arsenal of skills that are easy to learn and perfect.
Do you have awesome problem-solving skills, or do you think you could use a bit of practice?
At Clevry, We can help you identify your personal soft-skills strengths with our free industry-leading psychometrics and career development tools. When you know your soft-skills strengths, you can find the job that brings you the most joy. Give it a quick try now by taking our Soft-skills quiz – it only takes two minutes to get your free soft-skills strengths profile.