How To Problem-Solve in the Workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 18, 2022 | Published July 26, 2021

Updated September 18, 2022

Published July 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Problem-solving skills are necessary for every role and industry. They help you solve issues at work for your clients, team members, managers, and yourself. Knowing what problem-solving skills you need and how to use them can make you a stronger employee. In this article, we discuss what problem-solving is, how to problem-solve, explore the skills you need to master this skill, and describe how to include them on your resume.

What is problem-solving?

Problem-solving is analyzing a challenge and thinking of an effective solution to overcome it. To problem-solve successfully, you need a variety of skills, such as communication, analytical thinking, and creativity. If the problems are complex, you may need more technical skills, such as mathematical or scientific knowledge.

Every industry and role requires some form of problem-solving. Whether it's an entry-level customer service job where you need to solve customer's issues or an executive marketing role solving complicated business problems. So, employers evaluate your problem-solving skills and ability in an interview by asking you behavioural or situational questions.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

How to problem-solve

Here are some steps you can follow to learn how to problem-solve at work:

1. Define the problem

Before you can solve a problem, you must define what it is. There may be multiple minor problems causing one bigger one, or people may view the problem differently. It is important that you talk to everyone involved to understand the full picture and pinpoint the problem accurately. Don't worry about thinking of potential solutions right away, solely focus on defining the problem.

To help you do so, take the following steps:

  • Separate facts from opinions

  • Determine who's involved in the problem and talk to everyone directly

  • Analyze company policies and procedures

  • Gather all the necessary information required to solve the problem in the next steps

2. Understand everyone's interests

While talking to everyone involved, it's important to learn what their interests are in the problem and potential solution. To problem-solve successfully, you want to develop a solution that benefits everyone, not just one party. Actively listen to everyone's perspective of the problem and ideas for solutions.

3. Identify possible solutions

Now that you have all the information about the problem and everyone involved, you can brainstorm possible ways to solve it. Consider the potential solutions you gathered in the last step and explore your own. Write down any solution you can think of, as you'll narrow down your list in the following steps. Aim to have at least five to eight potential solutions for each problem.

Keep the following points in mind while exploring possible solutions:

  • Consider the timeline for each solution

  • Make sure each solution is consistent with everyone's interests

  • Distinguish between short- and long-term alternatives

  • Ensure the ideas are consistent with the company's policies, goals, and objectives

Related: What is a Problem Statement? Definition and Example

4. Evaluate your options

Once you have a list of five to eight potential solutions, evaluate them. Assess the positive and negative consequences of each solution by considering the following:

  • How long will it take to implement the solution?

  • How will it affect everyone involved?

  • What resources do we need?

5. Select a solution

After the evaluation process is over, you need to select the best solution. To ensure it's the most effective option, aim to meet the following objectives:

  • It solves the problem without creating a new one

  • Everyone involved can agree on it

  • It is practical and easy to implement

  • It fits the company's policies and procedures

6. Implement the chosen solution

For a solution to work effectively, you need to consider who's implementing it, how they're implementing it, and the resources they need. Once you determine that, take the following actions to ensure the implementation is smooth:

  • Create an action plan to implement the chosen solution

  • Define objectives to monitor how well the solution is working

  • Develop timelines for each step of implementation

  • Communicate the plan to everyone involved

  • Develop feedback channels to use throughout implementation and monitoring the effectiveness

7. Monitor progress and make adjustments

After you implement the solution, you must monitor its progress continuously. Gather data and feedback from those involved to adjust the solution or implement new ones in the future. If the solution you picked doesn't work as planned, you may need to consider your alternative solutions from earlier or start the brainstorming process again with your new information.

What skills can help you problem-solve?

While problem-solving is its own skill, there are many other skills that can help you be a stronger problem-solver. Here are some of the most important problem-solving skills:

Listening

Active listening skills are vital to problem-solving as they help you gather valuable information from everyone involved. Show your team you're engaged and actively listening to each side. This encourages them to open up about the problem and take part in brainstorming solutions.

Analytical thinking

While you'll likely brainstorm possible solutions with a team, having strong analytical thinking skills can help you research and understand the problem to make an informed decision independently. Analytical skills can also help you anticipate the short- and long-term effects of potential solutions, allowing you to eliminate options you know won't work for your team and choose the best one.

Related: Analytical Skills: Essential for Every Job

Creativity

Problem-solving requires logic to analyze the issue. You also need creative skills to find the cause of the problem and develop innovative solutions. Creative people provide unique perspectives and implement ideas others may have not considered.

Communication

Non-verbal and verbal communication skills are vital when analyzing problems and developing potential solutions. You need to talk to everyone involved, either in person, over the phone, via text, or through email. To ensure you get all the necessary information and encourage team members to talk to you, strong communication skills are necessary.

Non-verbal communication is important as well as you can accidentally show too much interest in one party's perspective over another through your body language. For example, if you're looking around instead of making eye contact when talking to one party, it can seem like you're not listening. It's important to remain unbiased when solving problems at work, so give everyone involved the opportunity to speak and ensure your body language expresses your attentiveness.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Decision-making

While it's important to consider everyone's opinions for the ideal solution, it may be ultimately up to you to decide which solution to implement. Strong decision-making skills can help you decide on the best solution. You can come to a conclusion after thoroughly researching each side and considering the pros and cons.

Teamwork

Good problem-solving requires teamwork. You need to work closely with your team to ask about their perspective on the problem and involve them in developing effective solutions. Even after you implement the solution, strong teamwork is necessary to monitor its progress and apply the feedback to future problems. When you solve a problem effectively, it motivates your team to work better together and avoid future issues.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definitions and Examples

Highlighting problem-solving skills on your resume

If you have developed strong problem-solving skills, highlighting them on your resume can help you stand out over other candidates. Here are some ways you can do so:

Use specific examples

Include your problem-solving abilities in the skills, achievements, or work experience section of your resume. Explicitly saying you have strong problem-solving skills is one way to highlight them, but it's better to illustrate specific times you've used these skills in previous positions. Using quantifiable examples with numbers or statistics to support your claims is beneficial.

Consider the following examples:

  • "Collaborated with the entire marketing team and increased our monthly website views by 50%"

  • "Reduced the kitchen's budget and spending by 15% by switching suppliers"

  • "Increased customer satisfaction ratings in each airport washroom by 30% by assigning scheduled cleanings more often and addressing specific complaints"

  • "Evaluated information from multiple sources, such as customer reviews, employee feedback, and competitors, to lower employee turnover by 45% and increase the number of visitors to the store by 18%"

Tailor your resume

When submitting your resume to different companies, try to tailor your problem-solving skills to match the job. Consider what problem-solving skills and experience the employer is looking for and highlight them in your resume to help you stand out. You can also discuss your problem-solving skills in your cover letter to give the hiring manager more detail.

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