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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Definition, Examples, And How To List On A Resume)

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Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation.

Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively. That’s why employers value problem-solving skills in job candidates for just about every role.

We’ll cover problem-solving methods, ways to improve your problem-solving skills, and examples of showcasing your problem-solving skills during your job search .

Key Takeaways:

If you can show off your problem-solving skills on your resume , in your cover letter , and during a job interview, you’ll be one step closer to landing a job.

Companies rely on employees who can handle unexpected challenges, identify persistent issues, and offer workable solutions in a positive way.

It is important to improve problem solving skill because this is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time.

What are problem solving skills (definition, examples, and how to list on a resume)

Types of Problem-Solving Skills

How to improve your problem-solving skills, example answers to problem-solving interview questions, how to show off problem-solving skills on a resume, example resume and cover letter with problem-solving skills, more about problem-solving skills, problem solving skills faqs.

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Problem-solving skills are skills that help you identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently . Your ability to solve problems is one of the main ways that hiring managers and recruiters assess candidates, as those with excellent problem-solving skills are more likely to autonomously carry out their responsibilities.

A true problem solver can look at a situation, find the cause of the problem (or causes, because there are often many issues at play), and then come up with a reasonable solution that effectively fixes the problem or at least remedies most of it.

The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill , meaning that it’s more of a personality trait than a skill you’ve learned at school, on the job, or through technical training.

That being said, your proficiency with various hard skills will have a direct bearing on your ability to solve problems. For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re a great problem-solver; if you have no experience with astrophysics, you probably won’t be hired as a space station technician .

Problem-solving is considered a skill on its own, but it’s supported by many other skills that can help you be a better problem solver. These skills fall into a few different categories of problem-solving skills.

Problem recognition and analysis. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and discover what it is or what the root cause of it is.

You can’t begin to solve a problem unless you’re aware of it. Sometimes you’ll see the problem yourself and other times you’ll be told about the problem. Both methods of discovery are very important, but they can require some different skills. The following can be an important part of the process:

Active listening

Data analysis

Historical analysis

Communication

Create possible solutions. You know what the problem is, and you might even know the why of it, but then what? Your next step is the come up with some solutions.

Most of the time, the first solution you come up with won’t be the right one. Don’t fall victim to knee-jerk reactions; try some of the following methods to give you solution options.

Brainstorming

Forecasting

Decision-making

Topic knowledge/understanding

Process flow

Evaluation of solution options. Now that you have a lot of solution options, it’s time to weed through them and start casting some aside. There might be some ridiculous ones, bad ones, and ones you know could never be implemented. Throw them away and focus on the potentially winning ideas.

This step is probably the one where a true, natural problem solver will shine. They intuitively can put together mental scenarios and try out solutions to see their plusses and minuses. If you’re still working on your skill set — try listing the pros and cons on a sheet of paper.

Prioritizing

Evaluating and weighing

Solution implementation. This is your “take action” step. Once you’ve decided which way to go, it’s time to head down that path and see if you were right. This step takes a lot of people and management skills to make it work for you.

Dependability

Teambuilding

Troubleshooting

Follow-Through

Believability

Trustworthiness

Project management

Evaluation of the solution. Was it a good solution? Did your plan work or did it fail miserably? Sometimes the evaluation step takes a lot of work and review to accurately determine effectiveness. The following skills might be essential for a thorough evaluation.

Customer service

Feedback responses

Flexibility

You now have a ton of skills in front of you. Some of them you have naturally and some — not so much. If you want to solve a problem, and you want to be known for doing that well and consistently, then it’s time to sharpen those skills.

Develop industry knowledge. Whether it’s broad-based industry knowledge, on-the-job training , or very specific knowledge about a small sector — knowing all that you can and feeling very confident in your knowledge goes a long way to learning how to solve problems.

Be a part of a solution. Step up and become involved in the problem-solving process. Don’t lead — but follow. Watch an expert solve the problem and, if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to solve a problem, too. Pay attention to the steps and the skills that a person uses.

Practice solving problems. Do some role-playing with a mentor , a professor , co-workers, other students — just start throwing problems out there and coming up with solutions and then detail how those solutions may play out.

Go a step further, find some real-world problems and create your solutions, then find out what they did to solve the problem in actuality.

Identify your weaknesses. If you could easily point out a few of your weaknesses in the list of skills above, then those are the areas you need to focus on improving. How you do it is incredibly varied, so find a method that works for you.

Solve some problems — for real. If the opportunity arises, step in and use your problem-solving skills. You’ll never really know how good (or bad) you are at it until you fail.

That’s right, failing will teach you so much more than succeeding will. You’ll learn how to go back and readdress the problem, find out where you went wrong, learn more from listening even better. Failure will be your best teacher ; it might not make you feel good, but it’ll make you a better problem-solver in the long run.

Once you’ve impressed a hiring manager with top-notch problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter , you’ll need to continue selling yourself as a problem-solver in the job interview.

There are three main ways that employers can assess your problem-solving skills during an interview:

By asking questions that relate to your past experiences solving problems

Posing hypothetical problems for you to solve

By administering problem-solving tests and exercises

The third method varies wildly depending on what job you’re applying for, so we won’t attempt to cover all the possible problem-solving tests and exercises that may be a part of your application process.

Luckily, interview questions focused on problem-solving are pretty well-known, and most can be answered using the STAR method . STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and it’s a great way to organize your answers to behavioral interview questions .

Let’s take a look at how to answer some common interview questions built to assess your problem-solving capabilities:

At my current job as an operations analyst at XYZ Inc., my boss set a quarterly goal to cut contractor spending by 25% while maintaining the same level of production and moving more processes in-house. It turned out that achieving this goal required hiring an additional 6 full-time employees, which got stalled due to the pandemic. I suggested that we widen our net and hire remote employees after our initial applicant pool had no solid candidates. I ran the analysis on overhead costs and found that if even 4 of the 6 employees were remote, we’d save 16% annually compared to the contractors’ rates. In the end, all 6 employees we hired were fully remote, and we cut costs by 26% while production rose by a modest amount.
I try to step back and gather research as my first step. For instance, I had a client who needed a graphic designer to work with Crello, which I had never seen before, let alone used. After getting the project details straight, I began meticulously studying the program the YouTube tutorials, and the quick course Crello provides. I also reached out to coworkers who had worked on projects for this same client in the past. Once I felt comfortable with the software, I started work immediately. It was a slower process because I had to be more methodical in my approach, but by putting in some extra hours, I turned in the project ahead of schedule. The client was thrilled with my work and was shocked to hear me joke afterward that it was my first time using Crello.
As a digital marketer , website traffic and conversion rates are my ultimate metrics. However, I also track less visible metrics that can illuminate the story behind the results. For instance, using Google Analytics, I found that 78% of our referral traffic was coming from one affiliate, but that these referrals were only accounting for 5% of our conversions. Another affiliate, who only accounted for about 10% of our referral traffic, was responsible for upwards of 30% of our conversions. I investigated further and found that the second, more effective affiliate was essentially qualifying our leads for us before sending them our way, which made it easier for us to close. I figured out exactly how they were sending us better customers, and reached out to the first, more prolific but less effective affiliate with my understanding of the results. They were able to change their pages that were referring us traffic, and our conversions from that source tripled in just a month. It showed me the importance of digging below the “big picture” metrics to see the mechanics of how revenue was really being generated through digital marketing.

You can bring up your problem-solving skills in your resume summary statement , in your work experience , and under your education section , if you’re a recent graduate. The key is to include items on your resume that speak direclty to your ability to solve problems and generate results.

If you can, quantify your problem-solving accomplishments on your your resume . Hiring managers and recruiters are always more impressed with results that include numbers because they provide much-needed context.

This sample resume for a Customer Service Representative will give you an idea of how you can work problem solving into your resume.

Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Professional Summary Qualified Customer Services Representative with 3 years in a high-pressure customer service environment. Professional, personable, and a true problem solver. Work History ABC Store — Customer Service Representative 01/2015 — 12/2017 Managed in-person and phone relations with customers coming in to pick up purchases, return purchased products, helped find and order items not on store shelves, and explained details and care of merchandise. Became a key player in the customer service department and was promoted to team lead. XYZ Store — Customer Service Representative/Night Manager 01/2018 — 03/2020, released due to Covid-19 layoffs Worked as the night manager of the customer service department and filled in daytime hours when needed. Streamlined a process of moving customers to the right department through an app to ease the burden on the phone lines and reduce customer wait time by 50%. Was working on additional wait time problems when the Covid-19 pandemic caused our stores to close permanently. Education Chicago Tech 2014-2016 Earned an Associate’s Degree in Principles of Customer Care Skills Strong customer service skills Excellent customer complaint resolution Stock record management Order fulfillment New product information Cash register skills and proficiency Leader in problem solving initiatives

You can see how the resume gives you a chance to point out your problem-solving skills and to show where you used them a few times. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and list a few things that make you stand out from the crowd.

Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Dear Mary McDonald, I am writing in response to your ad on Zippia for a Customer Service Representative . Thank you for taking the time to consider me for this position. Many people believe that a job in customer service is simply listening to people complain all day. I see the job as much more than that. It’s an opportunity to help people solve problems, make their experience with your company more enjoyable, and turn them into life-long advocates of your brand. Through my years of experience and my educational background at Chicago Tech, where I earned an Associate’s Degree in the Principles of Customer Care, I have learned that the customers are the lifeline of the business and without good customer service representatives, a business will falter. I see it as my mission to make each and every customer I come in contact with a fan. I have more than five years of experience in the Customer Services industry and had advanced my role at my last job to Night Manager. I am eager to again prove myself as a hard worker, a dedicated people person, and a problem solver that can be relied upon. I have built a professional reputation as an employee that respects all other employees and customers, as a manager who gets the job done and finds solutions when necessary, and a worker who dives in to learn all she can about the business. Most of my customers have been very satisfied with my resolution ideas and have returned to do business with us again. I believe my expertise would make me a great match for LMNO Store. I have enclosed my resume for your review, and I would appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my qualifications. Thank you again for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Michelle Beattle

You’ve no doubt noticed that many of the skills listed in the problem-solving process are repeated. This is because having these abilities or talents is so important to the entire course of getting a problem solved.

In fact, they’re worthy of a little more attention. Many of them are similar, so we’ll pull them together and discuss how they’re important and how they work together.

Communication, active listening, and customer service skills. No matter where you are in the process of problem-solving, you need to be able to show that you’re listening and engaged and really hearing what the problem is or what a solution may be.

Obviously, the other part of this is being able to communicate effectively so people understand what you’re saying without confusion. Rolled into this are customer service skills , which really are all about listening and responding appropriately — it’s the ultimate in interpersonal communications.

Analysis (data and historical), research, and topic knowledge/understanding. This is how you intellectually grasp the issue and approach it. This can come from studying the topic and the process or it can come from knowledge you’ve gained after years in the business. But the best solutions come from people who thoroughly understand the problem.

Creativity, brainstorming, troubleshooting, and flexibility. All of you creative thinkers will like this area because it’s when your brain is at its best.

Coming up with ideas, collaborating with others, leaping over hurdles, and then being able to change courses immediately, if need be, are all essential. If you’re not creative by nature, then having a team of diverse thinkers can help you in this area.

Dependability, believability, trustworthiness, and follow-through. Think about it, these are all traits a person needs to have to make change happen and to make you comfortable taking that next step with them. Someone who is shifty and shady and never follows through, well, you’re simply not going to do what they ask, are you?

Leadership, teambuilding, decision-making, and project management. These are the skills that someone who is in charge is brimming with. These are the leaders you enjoy working for because you know they’re doing what they can to keep everything in working order. These skills can be learned but they’re often innate.

Prioritizing, prediction, forecasting, evaluating and weighing, and process flow. If you love flow charts, data analysis, prediction modeling, and all of that part of the equation, then you might have some great problem-solving abilities.

These are all great skills because they can help you weed out bad ideas, see flaws, and save massive amounts of time in trial and error.

What is a good example of problem-solving skills?

Good examples of porblem-solving skills include research, analysis, creativity, communciation, and decision-making. Each of these skills build off one another to contribute to the problem solving process. Research and analysis allow you to identify a problem.

Creativity and analysis help you consider different solutions. Meanwhile, communication and decision-making are key to working with others to solve a problem on a large scale.

What are 3 key attributes of a good problem solver?

3 key attributes of a good problem solver are persistence, intellegince, and empathy. Persistence is crucial to remain motivated to work through challenges. Inellegince is needed to make smart, informed choices. Empathy is crucial to maintain positive relationships with others as well as yourself.

What can I say instead of problem-solving skills?

Instead of saying problem-solving skills, you can say the following:

Critical thinker

Solutions-oriented

Engineering

Using different words is helpful, especially when writing your resume and cover letter.

What is problem-solving in the workplace?

Problem-solving in the workplace is the ability to work through any sort of challenge, conflict, or unexpected situation and still achieve business goals. Though it varies by profession, roblem-solving in the workplace is very important for almost any job, because probelms are inevitable. You need to have the appropriate level of problem-solving skills if you want to succeed in your career, whatever it may be.

Department of Labor – Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

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Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Examples Included)

Mike Simpson 0 Comments

problem solving skills definition and examples

By Mike Simpson

Problem-solving skills are important not just for work. In the words of Karl Popper , “All life is problem-solving.”

What on earth does that mean? Simply that being alive means facing challenges. With problem-solving skills, you can navigate issues with greater ease, making hard times, well, less hard.

But what are problem-solving skills? How do you know if you have them or not? Why do they matter to your job search? And what should you do if you don’t feel yours are up to snuff? Luckily, we’re about to get into all of that.

If you’re curious about the world of problem-solving skills, here’s what you need to know.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Before we dig into any examples, let’s focus first on an important question: what are problem-solving skills.

To answer that question, let’s start with the barebones basics. According to Merriam-Webster , problem-solving is “the process or act of finding a solution to a problem.” Why does that matter? Well, because it gives you insight into what problem-solving skills are.

Any skill that helps you find solutions to problems can qualify. And that means problem-solving skills aren’t just one capability, but a toolbox filled with soft skills and hard skills that come together during your time of need.

The ability to solve problems is relevant to any part of your life. Whether your writing a grocery list or dealing with a car that won’t start, you’re actually problem-solving.

The same is true at work, too. Most tasks actually involve a degree of problem-solving. Really? Really.

Think about it this way; when you’re given an assignment, you’re being asked, “Can you do this thing?” Doing that thing is the problem.

Then, you have to find a path that lets you accomplish what you need to do. That is problem-solving.

Yes, sometimes what you need to handle isn’t “challenging” in the difficulty sense. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.

Besides, some of what you need to do will legitimately be hard. Maybe you’re given a new responsibility, or something goes wrong during a project. When that happens, you’ll have to navigate unfamiliar territory, gather new information, and think outside of the box. That’s problem-solving, too.

That’s why hiring managers favor candidates with problem-solving skills. They make you more effective in your role, increasing the odds that you can find solutions whenever the need arises.

How Are Problem-Solving Skills Relevant to a Job Search?

Alright, you probably have a good idea of what problem-solving skills are. Now, it’s time to talk about why they matter to your job search.

We’ve already touched on one major point: hiring managers prefer candidates with strong problem-solving skills. That alone makes these capabilities a relevant part of the equation. If you don’t show the hiring manager you’ve got what it takes to excel, you may struggle to land a position.

But that isn’t the only reason these skills matter. Problem-solving skills can help you during the entire job search process. After all, what’s a job search but a problem – or a series of problems – that needs an answer.

You need a new job; that’s the core problem you’re solving. But every step is its own unique challenge. Finding an opening that matches your skills, creating a resume that resonates with the hiring manager, nailing the interview, and negotiating a salary … those are all smaller problems that are part of the bigger one.

So, problem-solving skills really are at the core of the job search experience. By having strong capabilities in this area, you may find a new position faster than you’d expect.

Okay, you may be thinking, “If hiring managers prefer candidates with problem-solving skills, which ones are they after? Are certain problem-solving capabilities more important today? Is there something I should be going out of my way to showcase?”

While any related skills are worth highlighting, some may get you further than others. Analysis, research, creativity, collaboration , organization, and decision-making are all biggies. With those skills, you can work through the entire problem-solving process, making them worthwhile additions to your resume.

But that doesn’t mean you have to focus there solely. Don’t shy away from showcasing everything you bring to the table. That way, if a particular hiring manager is looking for a certain capability, you’re more likely to tap on what they’re after.

How to Highlight Problem-Solving Skills for Job Search

At this point, it’s ridiculously clear that problem-solving skills are valuable in the eyes of hiring managers. So, how do you show them that you’ve got all of the capabilities they are after? By using the right approach.

When you’re writing your resume or cover letter , your best bet is to highlight achievements that let you put your problem-solving skills to work. That way, you can “show” the hiring manager you have what it takes.

Showing is always better than telling. Anyone can write down, “I have awesome problem-solving skills.” The thing is, that doesn’t really prove that you do. With a great example, you offer up some context, and that makes a difference.

How do you decide on which skills to highlight on your resume or cover letter? By having a great strategy. With the Tailoring Method , it’s all about relevancy. The technique helps you identify skills that matter to that particular hiring manager, allowing you to speak directly to their needs.

Plus, you can use the Tailoring Method when you answer job interview questions . With that approach, you’re making sure those responses are on-point, too.

But when do you talk about your problem-solving capabilities during an interview? Well, there’s a good chance you’ll get asked problem-solving interview questions during your meeting. Take a look at those to see the kinds of questions that are perfect for mentioning these skills.

However, you don’t have to stop there. If you’re asked about your greatest achievement or your strengths, those could be opportunities, too. Nearly any open-ended question could be the right time to discuss those skills, so keep that in mind as you practice for your interview.

How to Develop Problem-Solving Skills If You Don’t Have Them

Developing problem-solving skills may seem a bit tricky on the surface, especially if you think you don’t have them. The thing is, it doesn’t actually have to be hard. You simply need to use the right strategy.

First, understand that you probably do have problem-solving skills; you simply may not have realized it. After all, life is full of challenges that you have to tackle, so there’s a good chance you’ve developed some abilities along the way.

Now, let’s reframe the question and focus on how to improve your problem-solving skills. Here’s how to go about it.

Understand the Problem-Solving Process

In many cases, problem-solving is all about the process. You:

  • Identify the problem
  • Analyze the key elements
  • Look for potential solutions
  • Examine the options for viability and risk
  • Decide on an approach
  • Review the outcome for lessons

By understanding the core process, you can apply it more effectively. That way, when you encounter an issue, you’ll know how to approach it, increasing the odds you’ll handle the situation effectively.

Try Puzzles and Games

Any activity that lets you take the steps listed above could help you hone your problem-solving skills. For example, brainteasers, puzzles, and logic-based games can be great places to start.

Whether it’s something as straightforward – but nonetheless challenging – as Sudoku or a Rubik’s Cube, or something as complex as Settlers of Catan, it puts your problem-solving skills to work. Plus, if you enjoy the activity, it makes skill-building fun, making it a win-win.

Look for Daily Opportunities

If you’re looking for a practical approach, you’re in luck. You can also look at the various challenges you face during the day and think about how to overcome them.

For example, if you always experience a mid-day energy slump that hurts your productivity, take a deep dive into that problem. Define what’s happening, think about why it occurs, consider various solutions, pick one to try, and analyze the results.

By using the problem-solving approach more often in your life, you’ll develop those skills further and make using these capabilities a habit. Plus, you may find ways to improve your day-to-day living, which is a nice bonus.

Volunteer for “Stretch” Projects

If you’re currently employed, volunteering for projects that push you slightly outside of your comfort zone can help you develop problem-solving skills, too. You’ll encounter the unknown and have to think outside of the box, both of which can boost critical problem-solving-related skills.

Plus, you may gain other capabilities along the way, like experience with new technologies or tools. That makes the project an even bigger career booster, which is pretty awesome.

List of Problem-Solving Skills

Alright, we’ve taken a pretty deep dive into what problem-solving skills are. Now, it’s time for some problem-solving skills examples.

As we mentioned above, there are a ton of capabilities and traits that can support better problem-solving. By understanding what they are, you can showcase the right abilities during your job search.

So, without further ado, here is a quick list of problem-solving skill examples:

  • Collaboration
  • Organization
  • Decision-Making
  • Troubleshooting
  • Self-Reliance
  • Self-Motivation
  • Communication
  • Attention to Detail
  • Brainstorming
  • Forecasting
  • Active Listening
  • Accountability
  • Open-Mindedness
  • Critical Thinking
  • Flexibility

Do you have to showcase all of those skills during your job search individually? No, not necessarily. Instead, you want to highlight a range of capabilities based on what the hiring manager is after. If you’re using the Tailoring Method, you’ll know which ones need to make their way into your resume, cover letter, and interview answers.

Now, are there other skills that support problem-solving? Yes, there certainly can be.

Essentially any skill that helps you go from the problem to the solution can, in its own right, be a problem-solving skill.

All of the skills above can be part of the equation. But, if you have another capability that helps you flourish when you encounter an obstacle, it can count, too.

Reflect on your past experience and consider how you’ve navigated challenges in the past. If a particular skill helped you do that, then it’s worth highlighting during a job search.

If you would like to find out more about skills to put on a resume , we’ve taken a close look at the topic before. Along with problem-solving skills, we dig into a variety of other areas, helping you choose what to highlight so that you can increase your odds of landing your perfect job.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, problem-solving skills are essential for professionals in any kind of field. By honing your capabilities and showcasing them during your job search, you can become a stronger candidate and employee. In the end, that’s all good stuff, making it easier for you to keep your career on track today, tomorrow, and well into the future.

problem solving skills definition and examples

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com.

His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes , Entrepreneur , CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan , Penn State , Northeastern and others.

Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page .

About The Author

Mike simpson.

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Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes , Entrepreneur , CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan , Penn State , Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page .

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Status.net

What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
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What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Definition & Examples of Problem-Solving Skills

problem solving skills definition and examples

  • Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.

Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.

Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the  key skills that employers  seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.

Problem-solving is considered a  soft skill  (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.

How Problem-Solving Skills Work

Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.

To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.

Theresa Chiechi / The Balance

There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.

1. Analyze Contributing Factors

To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.

To do this, you'll use skills like :

  • Data gathering
  • Data analysis
  • Fact-finding
  • Historical analysis

2. Generate Interventions

Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.

This involves skills like :

  • Brainstorming
  • Creative thinking
  • Forecasting
  • Project design
  • Project planning

3. Evaluate Solutions

Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.

This requires several skills, including:

  • Corroboration
  • Test development
  • Prioritizing

4. Implement a Plan

Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.

This requires skills like:

  • Project management
  • Project implementation
  • Collaboration
  • Time management
  • Benchmark development

5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness

Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.

This requires:

  • Communication
  • Customer feedback
  • Follow-through
  • Troubleshooting

Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.

When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.

Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:

When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.

Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills

  • Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.

If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your  cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.

During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a  coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .

Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.

Key Takeaways

  • It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
  • Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness. 

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Problem Solving Skills: Best Examples & Advice for 2024

problem solving skills definition and examples

Problem-solving skills are a set of attributes that allow individuals to assess, analyze, and resolve complex situations and challenges that they may encounter in life. It involves the ability to think critically and creatively, identify various options and alternatives, and select the most effective solution to a particular problem.

The constant need for problem-solving skills, both in personal and professional aspects of an individual’s life, highlights the importance of having this skill set. In this article, we will explore the significance of problem-solving skills in personal and professional life and provide some of the best examples and advice to help develop this crucial skill.

Importance of problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills are essential in daily life, from figuring out how to fix a broken appliance or to resolve a conflict with a friend. The same applies to the professional world, as individuals are continually faced with workplace challenges that require immediate and practical solutions.

Employers prioritize problem-solving skills when hiring new employees. This is because companies need people who can think critically and creatively in high-stress situations, who can identify opportunities, innovate and implement new ideas, and adapt to changes accordingly. An employee with excellent problem-solving skills adds value to an organization since they can resolve conflicts, contribute to decision-making, and develop effective strategies that enhance productivity levels.

Personal life heavily benefits from problem-solving skills, as individuals who can navigate through difficult situations can maintain healthy relationships, relieve stress, and handle their affairs confidently. Learning how to manage difficulties in personal life translates to how an individual can manage their professional life, helping them to thrive in the workplace.

Definition of problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills involve various attributes, including analytical and critical thinking, decision-making, creativity, and resourcefulness. The ability to think outside the box, coupled with sound judgment, helps individuals weigh various options and identify the most effective solution.

problem solving skills definition and examples

Creativity is also a critical aspect of problem-solving since individuals need to think of alternative solutions to try in challenging situations. Finally, resourcefulness helps individuals overcome unforeseen challenges when there are no obvious solutions.

Types of Problems

Problem-solving is not just about finding a solution. It also involves identifying the type of problem you are facing. By doing so, you can determine the best approach to solve the problem.

Categorization of Problems

Problems can be classified in different ways. Here are some common types of problems:

  • Simple problems  are straightforward and have a clear solution. For example, fixing a flat tire on your bike.
  • Complicated problems  are more complex and require more effort to solve. These problems typically have multiple steps and may require specialized knowledge. For example, fixing a broken computer.
  • Complex problems  are the most challenging type of problem. These problems are often dynamic, with changing variables and uncertain outcomes. They require creative thinking and the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. For example, finding a cure for a new virus.

Different Approaches to Solving Complex Problems

Complex problems require a different approach to solve. Here are some approaches that can be used to tackle complex problems:

  • Collaborative problem-solving.  This approach involves bringing together a diverse group of people with different perspectives and expertise to work on the problem. This can generate fresh ideas and solutions that may not have been possible otherwise.
  • Systems thinking.  This approach involves looking at the problem as part of a larger system. By understanding the system’s interconnected parts and the relationships between them, you can develop a targeted solution that addresses the root cause of the problem.
  • Design thinking.  This approach involves looking at the problem from the user’s perspective. By understanding the user’s needs and experiences, you can develop a solution that meets those needs in a practical way.
  • Agile problem-solving.  This approach involves breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable parts. This allows you to quickly test and refine solutions, adapting to changing circumstances as needed.

Understanding the type of problem you are facing is crucial to developing an effective solution. By using the appropriate approach, you can solve even the most complex problems.

Steps Involved in Problem-Solving Process

To effectively solve a problem, there are certain steps that need to be followed. In this section, we will discuss the steps involved in the problem-solving process.

Identification of Problem

The first step in problem-solving is identifying the problem. This involves recognizing that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s important to clearly define the problem at this stage, as it will inform the subsequent steps in the process.

Analysis of the Problem

Once the problem has been identified, the next step is to analyze it. This means gathering information and data related to the issue. Understanding the underlying causes of the problem and its impact is key to developing effective solutions.

Defining the Problem

Once the problem has been analyzed, it’s time to define it more precisely. This involves looking at the root causes of the problem and identifying the key issues that need to be addressed. This step will help to ensure that the problem is properly understood and that the right solutions are developed.

Developing Alternative Solutions

With a clear understanding of the problem, it’s time to develop alternative solutions. The aim is to generate a range of options that could potentially address the problem. Brainstorming is a great technique for this stage, as it encourages creative thinking and the exploration of new ideas.

Evaluating the Alternative Solutions

Having generated a range of potential solutions, the next step is to evaluate them. This involves assessing how well each option would address the problem and examining any potential drawbacks. It’s important to be objective during this stage, and to consider each solution on its own merits.

Choosing the Best Solution

Once the potential solutions have been evaluated, the next step is to choose the best one. This means selecting the option that is most likely to solve the problem effectively, efficiently and within the given timeframe. It is important to consider both short-term and long-term consequences of the solution.

problem solving skills definition and examples

Implementing the Solution

With the best solution chosen, the next step is to implement it. This means putting the plan into action and making sure that everyone involved is clear on their role and responsibilities. Communication, collaboration and cooperation between team members are crucial to successful implementation.

Follow-up and Monitoring

The final step in the problem-solving process is follow-up and monitoring. This involves checking that the solution is working as intended and making any necessary adjustments. It’s important to track progress and identify any further challenges or problems that arise, so that they can be dealt with promptly.

Effective problem-solving involves a systematic and analytical approach that requires careful consideration of a range of factors. By following these steps, it is possible to identify and implement solutions that address the root causes of problems and create positive outcomes.

Common Mistakes in Solving Problems

In any problem-solving process, there are common mistakes that teams or individuals can make, leading to a failed outcome. Here are some of the most common ones:

Poor Communication

Poor communication can be the root of many problems in a team or project. It can lead to misunderstandings, missed deadlines, wasted resources, and ultimately, project failure. Communication issues can arise from language barriers, misinterpretation of messages, or even lack of motivation.

To avoid poor communication, it is essential to prioritize clear and concise communication channels. Listen intently and provide feedback actively, and be open to constructive criticism. Stay focused on the outcomes, and ensure that all communication aligns with the project’s goals.

Inaccurate or Insufficient Information

A lack of accurate and relevant information can derail a problem-solving process. Teams must be diligent in researching all available data, seeking expert advice, and analyzing data to make informed decisions. Failure to do so can result in missed opportunities, incorrect solutions, and delays in finding the right solution.

To prevent insufficient information, create a plan to gather all the available data, including the potential sources of information. Involve team members who are experts in their fields, and seek guidance from senior stakeholders. Use the gathered data to create an informed decision-making process.

Failure to Involve Key Stakeholders

It is crucial to involve all relevant stakeholders in the problem-solving process. Failure to involve stakeholders can lead to problematic communication, incomplete information, and unaddressed concerns that arise later.

To prevent failure to involve key stakeholders, identify all stakeholders at the beginning of the problem-solving process, including team members, customers, end-users, and senior leaders. Set up regular communication channels with stakeholder groups and ensure that all feedback and concerns are adequately addressed to achieve desired outcomes.

Bias and Groupthink

Biases and groupthink can influence and cloud the objectivity of the problem-solving process. Personal biases, opinions, or beliefs can impede the individual’s ability to reason and make rational decisions. Groupthink is a phenomenon when a group places more priority on agreeing with the majority rather than critically analyzing the problem.

To avoid bias and groupthink, team members should be trained in recognizing personal biases and avoiding preconceived notions that may influence decision-making. Encourage active participation from all members and foster a culture of open criticism and discussion.

Overlooking Underlying Issues

While addressing the immediate problems that arise, it is easy to overlook underlying issues that cause recurring problems. Fixing the symptoms and ignoring the root cause can be a short-sighted approach to problem-solving.

To avoid overlooking underlying issues, analyze the problem thoroughly, identifying previous occurrences, and consider metrics to gauge current problems’ severity. Look beyond the most obvious solutions and evaluate alternative approaches that address the underlying issues. Create a checklist to assess if the possible solutions address the root cause.

Problem-Solving Techniques and Tools

In any workplace, problem-solving can be a challenging task, especially if the issue is not well-defined or if a team is not capable of reaching a consensus. Fortunately, there are numerous problem-solving tools and techniques that can aid in resolving any problem or issue. The following are some of the problem-solving techniques and tools that individuals and teams use to overcome various challenges:

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a problem-solving technique that facilitates the collective creation of ideas and potential solutions by a group of individuals. This technique enhances creativity and allows individuals to present their thoughts and ideas freely without judgment or criticism. Some brainstorming techniques include structured brainstorming, rapid ideation, and brainwriting. Brainstorming assists in identifying causes and possible solutions to a problem or challenge.

Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving technique that proactively identifies the root cause(s) rather than just treating the symptoms of the problem. RCA focuses on identifying the most basic reason(s) that leads to a problem, suggesting a solution to the cause(s), and preventing the issue from happening again. RCA is an iterative process that involves systematically defining and analyzing the problem to identify the root cause.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis is used to evaluate an organization’s or individual’s internal and external environment. It considers the strengths and weaknesses of the organization or individual, and the opportunities and threats presented by the external environment. The output of a SWOT analysis fit into two categories – internal (strengths and weaknesses) and external (opportunities and threats). It is usually used in creating strategic planning and decision-making.

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone diagrams, also known as cause-and-effect diagrams, are problem-solving tools used to identify the causes of a specific problem or issue. It is based on the idea that every effect has a cause, and that most problems have multiple causes. The causes are categorized into different aspects or categories such as people, process, environment, or equipment to identify which causes need to be addressed first.

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA)

FMEA predicts and identifies potential defects or failures before they occur. It provides an essential, structured approach to prioritize possible causes that may cause a defect or failure. FMEA techniques are proactive, assisting the organization or individual to take preventive actions, prioritize potential risks, and mitigate or eliminate the causes of failure.

Pareto Analysis

Pareto Analysis is a statistical problem-solving tool that prioritizes problems or causes based on their severity or impact to the organization or individual. It is also called the 80/20 rule, where 80% of an effect comes from the 20% of the causes. The Pareto chart represents the data, and the focus area of the problem.

Skills Required for Effective Problem Solving

Problem solving is an essential skill that most employers look for in their employees. Effective problem solvers not only overcome challenges, but they also identify new opportunities to keep businesses competitive. Over time, problem solving has been recognized as an incredibly complex activity that requires a diverse range of skills to be effective. This section of the article will focus on six vital key skills for effective problem solving. They are as follows:

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a mental process that is aimed at evaluating information systematically to reach a sound, logical conclusion. When it comes to problem-solving, critical thinking enables us to identify, assess, and analyze the situation’s underlying causes to determine the appropriate course of action. Without critical thinking, decisions are made without thorough consideration of the potential outcomes. Therefore, it is imperative to develop critical thinking skills to become a great problem solver.

Analytical Skills

Analytical skills involve the ability to scrutinize data and information, break them down into small parts, find patterns, and draw logical conclusions. Effective problem solvers must be able to use analytical skills to evaluate different solutions and determine which one is the most appropriate. This skill requires attention to detail, patience, and an analytical mindset to examine the different parts of a problem and determine their relevance.

Creativity and Innovation

Being creative and innovative means that you can think outside the box and come up with non-traditional solutions to complex issues. Effective problem solvers know how to be both creative and innovative, which is essential when situations call for out-of-the-box solutions. Without this skill, problem solvers would always rely on the same tried-and-tested solutions that may not be applicable in all situations.

Decision-Making Skills

Effective problem solving comes with decision making skills. This skill refers to the ability to analyze situations, weigh the pros and cons of different alternatives, and choose the best course of action. A good decision-maker can identify risks and consequences before making a final decision. The decision-making process can be complex, and it helps to have a logical and straightforward approach.

Communication and Collaboration Skills

Communication and collaboration skills are vital to effective problem solving. This skill set involves providing feedback, sharing expertise, and building consensus with team members. Good communication skills can help to prevent misunderstandings and mistakes while improving productivity. Collaboration skills enable you to work effectively as a team to solve complex issues and achieve the desired results.

Persistence and Resilience

Effective problem-solving requires persistence and resilience to overcome challenging obstacles. Persistence involves to continue working to solve a problem despite setbacks and failures, while resilience brings the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation. Effective problem solvers understand that successful problem-solving requires overcoming hurdles and setbacks to achieve your desired outcome.

Effective problem solving demands a diverse range of skills that can be developed and refined over time.

Examples of Problem Solving in Different Environments

As problem solving is an essential skill, it is crucial to understand how it applies in different environments. Here are some examples of problem solving in different areas:

Problem Solving in the Workplace

In the workplace, problem solving is essential in various scenarios. It could be a technical issue that needs fixing, disagreements among team members, or a more significant issue such as losing clients. Problem solving in the workplace requires collaboration and communication among team members to find a solution that benefits everyone.

One example of a successful problem-solving process in the workplace could be applying the “5 Whys” technique. After identifying a problem, teams would ask why it happened five times until its root cause is identified. With this process, it would be easier to find the right solution preventing the problem from happening again.

Problem Solving in Education

Problem-solving skills are vital in education, as students and teachers face numerous issues daily. It could be a student struggling with a particular subject or a teacher struggling to make their class engaging. To address this, it is crucial to identify the real issue and find the right approach to solve it.

For instance, if a student is struggling with a particular subject, a teacher could assess the student’s learning style and adjust their teaching method accordingly. By doing so, the teacher could help the student improve their understanding of the subject, which could result in better grades.

Problem Solving in Personal Life

We all face issues in our personal life, and problem-solving skills could help us overcome them. For instance, if you have trouble managing your finances, you could identify the issue by listing all your expenses and income sources. After identifying where the issue lies, you could create a budget to manage your finances better.

Another example could be when you have trouble sleeping. You could find the cause of your sleep disturbances and find an appropriate solution. It could be turning off electronic devices an hour before bedtime or changing your bedroom’s temperature to improve your sleep.

Problem Solving in Leadership

As a leader, problem-solving skills are crucial to ensure the success of the team or organization. Leaders face various issues such as employee engagement, low productivity, and conflicts among team members. Effective leaders use problem-solving skills to find the root cause of the problem and develop a plan to address it.

One example of an effective problem-solving process for leaders could be using the “SWOT Analysis” technique. By identifying the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, leaders could develop a strategic plan to improve the organization’s overall performance.

Problem-solving skills are a valuable asset in various aspects of life. By understanding how to apply problem-solving skills in different environments, it would be easier to find the right solution that benefits everyone involved.

Ways to Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

As a professional, problem-solving skills are essential for success. As such, it is important for individuals to continually improve these skills. There are several ways to enhance problem-solving skills, and some of the best examples and advice are discussed below.

Practice Effective Communication

Effective communication is essential in problem-solving. Clear communication allows individuals to understand the problems at hand, brainstorm solutions, and communicate potential solutions to colleagues, stakeholders, and clients. Communication skills can be improved through practice, engaging in active listening, and avoiding misunderstandings.

Prepare a Plan and Prioritize Tasks

Preparing a plan and prioritizing tasks enables individuals to systematically tackle and solve problems. Planning involves breaking a problem down into smaller, more manageable parts and identifying the steps necessary to solve each part. Additionally, prioritizing tasks helps individuals determine which problems require immediate attention and which can wait.

Think Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box allows individuals to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. Ideas that are considered outside the norm may lead to innovative solutions that have not been considered by others. To think outside the box, individuals should challenge assumptions, examine the problem from different perspectives, and brainstorm unconventional solutions.

Seek Out Feedback and Learn from Failure

Seeking feedback from colleagues, stakeholders, and clients can provide individuals with new insights and perspectives on a problem. Additionally, seeking feedback can help individuals identify areas of improvement and potential solutions to problems. Failure is also an opportunity for growth and learning. Individuals should analyze failures to understand what went wrong and how to avoid similar problems in the future.

Continually Learn and Expand Knowledge

Continuing to learn and expand knowledge is essential for problem-solving. Individuals should stay up-to-date with the latest industry news, take courses or attend workshops, and read books on the subject of problem-solving. This continuous learning process can help individuals identify new solutions and approaches to problems.

Problem-solving skills are essential for success in any profession. By practicing effective communication, preparing plans and prioritizing tasks, thinking outside the box, seeking out feedback, and continually learning and expanding knowledge, individuals can enhance their problem-solving skills and become more effective professionals.

Overcoming Obstacles to Effective Problem Solving

When it comes to problem solving, it’s not always smooth sailing. Obstacles and roadblocks can arise when trying to tackle a particular issue, and these obstacles can make it challenging to reach a successful resolution. In this section, we will discuss some common obstacles to effective problem solving and some strategies to overcome them.

Resistance to Change

One of the most significant barriers to effective problem solving is resistance to change. Some people are naturally resistant to change, and it takes a lot of persuasion to get them to embrace a new solution. If you encounter resistance to change when working on a problem, it’s essential to help stakeholders see the value of the proposed solution.

One strategy to address resistance to change is to involve those who are resistant in the decision-making process. By including them in the process, they may feel more ownership over the problem and be more open to the changes proposed. Another approach is to provide clear communication on the reasons for the change and the benefits it will bring. By demonstrating that the change is necessary for future success, you can help eliminate resistance.

Fear of Failure

Another obstacle to effective problem solving is a fear of failure. When people are afraid of failure, they may avoid taking risks or trying new ideas, which can prevent progress. To overcome fear of failure, it’s crucial to create a safe and supportive environment for experimentation and risk-taking.

One approach is to encourage people to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. By reframing failure as a necessary step towards success, you can help people embrace it as an inevitability in problem-solving. Another strategy is to break problems down into smaller, more manageable pieces. By tackling smaller components of the problem, you can build momentum towards a successful outcome that alleviates fears and shows progress.

Lack of Resources

A lack of resources can also hinder effective problem solving. Limited time, budget, or personnel can create significant barriers when trying to solve a problem. To overcome these obstacles, it’s essential to identify alternative resources that can be utilized.

One strategy is to consider all available resources, even those that may not seem immediately relevant. Brainstorming sessions can be helpful in identifying potential resources previously overlooked. Another approach is to consider collaborating with external partners or stakeholders to leverage additional resources. This can expand the available resources and provide a new perspective on problem-solving.

Unclear Goals and Objectives

Finally, unclear goals and objectives can hinder effective problem solving. When people don’t understand what they’re working towards or what success looks like, it can lead to inefficiency and frustration. To address this obstacle, it’s important to establish clear goals and objectives upfront.

One approach is to involve stakeholders in the goal-setting process. By soliciting input and buy-in upfront, you can ensure that everyone understands the desired outcomes and their individual roles in achieving them. Another strategy is to break down larger goals into smaller, more immediate targets.

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By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

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Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

When employers talk about problem-solving skills, they are often referring to the ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations in the workplace as well as complex business challenges. Organisations rely on people who can assess both kinds of situations and calmly identify solutions. Problem-solving skills are traits that enable you to do that. While problem-solving skills are valued by employers, they are also highly useful in other areas of life like relationship building and day-to-day decision making.

What are problem-solving skills?

Examples of problem-solving skills, how to improve your problem-solving skills, how to highlight problem-solving skills.

Problem-solving skills help you determine the source of a problem and find an effective solution. Although problem-solving is often identified as its own separate skill, there are other related skills that contribute to this ability.

Some key problem-solving skills include:

  • Active listening

Communication

Dependability.

  • Decision making
  • Team-building

Problem-solving skills are important in every career at every level. As a result, effective problem solving may also require industry or job-specific technical skills. For example, a registered nurse will need active listening and communication skills when interacting with patients but will also need effective technical knowledge related to diseases and medications. In many cases, a nurse will need to know when to consult a doctor regarding a patient’s medical needs as part of the solution.

To solve a problem effectively, you will likely use a few different skills. Here are a few examples of skills you may use when solving a problem.

Researching is an essential skill related to problem solving. As a problem solver, you need to be able to identify the cause of the issue and understand it fully. You can begin to gather more information about a problem by brainstorming with other team members, consulting more experienced colleagues or acquiring knowledge through online research or courses.

The first step to solving any problem is to analyse the situation. Your analytical skills will help you understand problems and effectively develop solutions. You will also need analytical skills during research to help distinguish between effective and ineffective solutions.

Decision-making

Ultimately, you will need to make a decision about how to solve problems that arise. At times (and with industry experience), you may be able to make a decision quickly. Solid research and analytical skills can help those who have less experience in their field. There may also be times when it is appropriate to take some time to craft a solution or escalate the issue to someone more capable of solving it.

When identifying possible solutions, you will need to know how to communicate the problem to others. You will also need to know what communication channels are the most appropriate when seeking assistance. Once you find a solution, communicating it clearly will help reduce any confusion and make implementing a solution easier.

Dependability is one of the most important skills for problem-solvers. Solving problems in a timely manner is essential. Employers highly value individuals they can trust to both identify and then implement solutions as fast and effectively as possible.

There are several methods you can use to improve your problem-solving skills. Whether you are searching for a job or currently working, improving your problem-solving skills and associated abilities will help make you a strong candidate and employee.

  • Acquire more technical knowledge in your field.  Depending on your industry, it may be easier to solve problems if you have a strong working technical knowledge. You can gain more technical knowledge through additional coursework, training or practice.
  • Seek out opportunities to solve problems.  By putting yourself into new situations, you are more likely to be exposed to opportunities to solve problems. You may find there are opportunities to volunteer for new projects in your current role, on another team or outside the workplace for another organisation.
  • Do practice problems.  Practice and role-play can be useful tools when learning to develop your problem-solving skills. You can find professional practice books for your industry and problem-solving scenarios online. Practice how you might solve those problems and determine if your potential solutions are viable.

For example, in customer service, you might find a scenario like, “How would you handle an angry customer?” or “How do you respond when a customer asks for a refund?” Practicing how you might handle these or other scenarios common in your industry can help you call upon solutions quickly when they arise on the job.

  • Observe how others solve problems.  You may have colleagues who are skilled problem solvers. Observing how those colleagues solve problems can help you improve your own skills. If possible, ask one of your more experienced colleagues if you can observe their techniques. Asking relevant questions can be helpful in applying them in your own career.

Showcasing your problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter can help employers quickly understand how you might be of value to their team. You might consider only showcasing problem-solving skills on your resume if it is particularly relevant to the position you’re applying for. Customer service, engineering and management positions, for example, would be good candidates for including problem-solving abilities.

Problem-solving skills for resume

On your resume, you can highlight your problem-solving skills in several locations: The “skills” section, the “achievements” section and by giving specific examples of problem-solving in your “experience” section.

In the  skills section , you may want to list key problem-solving skills that you possess instead of simply writing down the more generic term “problem-solving”. For example, you could list specific technical skills you possess that would help you solve problems or soft skills associated with problem-solving such as your research abilities or decision-making talents.

Remember, stories are powerful. Keep specific examples in mind of times you solved a problem. This is not only useful on your resume but will also help you answer  interview questions  like, “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.”

Problem-solving skills for cover letter

Your cover letter is also an excellent opportunity to elaborate on your problem-solving skills. Here, you can give a brief example of a time you solved a problem successfully. Alternatively, you might identify a challenge that this potential employer is seeking to solve and explain how you would address it.

For example, if a job posting mentions that the company is looking for someone to help improve their social media presence, you can identify ways you might aid in increasing awareness of the brand through various social media platforms.

Your problem-solving skills will be a benefit to you in every step of your career. From resume to application, interview to job duties, the ability to solve problems effectively as they arise will make you a valuable asset on the job and a highly sought after candidate.

Blog is curated by Vikram Kakri.

Blog is taken from indeed.in

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Problem Solving Skills: Meaning, Examples & Techniques

Table of Contents

26 January 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Do your children have trouble solving their Maths homework?

Or, do they struggle to maintain friendships at school?

If your answer is ‘Yes,’ the issue might be related to your child’s problem-solving abilities. Whether your child often forgets his/her lunch at school or is lagging in his/her class, good problem-solving skills can be a major tool to help them manage their lives better.

Children need to learn to solve problems on their own. Whether it is about dealing with academic difficulties or peer issues when children are equipped with necessary problem-solving skills they gain confidence and learn to make healthy decisions for themselves. So let us look at what is problem-solving, its benefits, and how to encourage your child to inculcate problem-solving abilities

Problem-solving skills can be defined as the ability to identify a problem, determine its cause, and figure out all possible solutions to solve the problem.

  • Trigonometric Problems

What is problem-solving, then? Problem-solving is the ability to use appropriate methods to tackle unexpected challenges in an organized manner. The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill, meaning that it’s more of a personality trait than a skill you’ve learned at school, on-the-job, or through technical training. While your natural ability to tackle problems and solve them is something you were born with or began to hone early on, it doesn’t mean that you can’t work on it. This is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time.

Problem Solving Skills: Meaning, Examples & Techniques are mentioned below in the Downloadable PDF. 

Benefits of learning problem-solving skills  

Promotes creative thinking and thinking outside the box.

Improves decision-making abilities.

Builds solid communication skills.

Develop the ability to learn from mistakes and avoid the repetition of mistakes.

Problem Solving as an ability is a life skill desired by everyone, as it is essential to manage our day-to-day lives. Whether you are at home, school, or work, life throws us curve balls at every single step of the way. And how do we resolve those? You guessed it right – Problem Solving.

Strengthening and nurturing problem-solving skills helps children cope with challenges and obstacles as they come. They can face and resolve a wide variety of problems efficiently and effectively without having a breakdown. Nurturing good problem-solving skills develop your child’s independence, allowing them to grow into confident, responsible adults. 

Children enjoy experimenting with a wide variety of situations as they develop their problem-solving skills through trial and error. A child’s action of sprinkling and pouring sand on their hands while playing in the ground, then finally mixing it all to eliminate the stickiness shows how fast their little minds work.

Sometimes children become frustrated when an idea doesn't work according to their expectations, they may even walk away from their project. They often become focused on one particular solution, which may or may not work.

However, they can be encouraged to try other methods of problem-solving when given support by an adult. The adult may give hints or ask questions in ways that help the kids to formulate their solutions. 

Encouraging Problem-Solving Skills in Kids

Practice problem solving through games.

Exposing kids to various riddles, mysteries, and treasure hunts, puzzles, and games not only enhances their critical thinking but is also an excellent bonding experience to create a lifetime of memories.

Create a safe environment for brainstorming

Welcome, all the ideas your child brings up to you. Children learn how to work together to solve a problem collectively when given the freedom and flexibility to come up with their solutions. This bout of encouragement instills in them the confidence to face obstacles bravely.

Invite children to expand their Learning capabilities

 Whenever children experiment with an idea or problem, they test out their solutions in different settings. They apply their teachings to new situations and effectively receive and communicate ideas. They learn the ability to think abstractly and can learn to tackle any obstacle whether it is finding solutions to a math problem or navigating social interactions.

Problem-solving is the act of finding answers and solutions to complicated problems. 

Developing problem-solving skills from an early age helps kids to navigate their life problems, whether academic or social more effectively and avoid mental and emotional turmoil.

Children learn to develop a future-oriented approach and view problems as challenges that can be easily overcome by exploring solutions. 

About Cuemath

Cuemath, a student-friendly mathematics and coding platform, conducts regular  Online Classes  for academics and skill-development, and their Mental Math App, on both  iOS  and  Android , is a one-stop solution for kids to develop multiple skills. Understand the Cuemath Fee structure and sign up for a free trial.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you teach problem-solving skills.

Model a useful problem-solving method. Problem solving can be difficult and sometimes tedious. ... 1. Teach within a specific context. ... 2. Help students understand the problem. ... 3. Take enough time. ... 4. Ask questions and make suggestions. ... 5. Link errors to misconceptions.

What makes a good problem solver?

Excellent problem solvers build networks and know how to collaborate with other people and teams. They are skilled in bringing people together and sharing knowledge and information. A key skill for great problem solvers is that they are trusted by others.

Mastering Problem-Solving Skills: Definition and Examples

Mastering Problem-Solving Skills Definition and Examples-compressed

Problem-Solving Skills – Introduction

Problem-solving skills are fundamental abilities that enable individuals to tackle complex challenges, overcome obstacles, and devise effective solutions. These skills are invaluable across various domains, from personal life to professional endeavors. As they empower individuals to analyze situations critically and implement strategies to achieve desired outcomes.

Definition of Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving skills encompass a range of cognitive processes and techniques aimed at identifying, analyzing, and resolving problems. These skills involve the application of logical reasoning, creativity, critical thinking, and decision-making to address issues and make sound judgments.

Understanding the Problem

Before attempting to solve a problem, it is essential to fully comprehend its nature and scope. This involves identifying the underlying issues, determining the goals to be achieved, and clarifying any constraints or limitations that may affect the solution.

Example: In a business context, understanding a decline in sales requires analyzing market trends. Customer feedback, and internal factors such as product quality and pricing strategies.

Analyzing Options

Once the problem is defined, individuals need to explore various solutions or approaches to address it. This stage involves brainstorming ideas, evaluating alternatives, and considering the potential outcomes of each option.

Example: When faced with a budget shortfall, a project manager may analyze different cost-cutting measures. Such as renegotiating contracts, reducing non-essential expenses, or reallocating resources.

Implementing Solutions

After selecting the most viable solution, the next step is implementing it effectively. This often requires planning, organization, and coordination to execute the chosen approach and monitor its progress toward achieving the desired results.

Example: To improve customer satisfaction, a restaurant manager may introduce a new training program for staff, streamline service processes, and solicit feedback from patrons to assess the impact of the changes.

Evaluating Results

Once the solution has been implemented, it is crucial to evaluate its effectiveness and identify any unforeseen consequences or areas for improvement. This feedback loop allows individuals to refine their problem-solving strategies and learn from their experiences.

Example: A teacher who introduces a new teaching method in the classroom may assess student performance, gather feedback from students and colleagues, and adjust the approach based on the observed outcomes.

Continuous Improvement

Problem-solving skills are not static but evolve through practice and experience. Individuals can enhance their abilities by seeking feedback, learning from failures, and continuously challenging themselves to solve increasingly complex problems.

Example: A software developer may regularly participate in coding challenges, attend workshops on emerging technologies, and collaborate with peers to stay updated and sharpen their programming skills.

In conclusion, problem-solving skills are essential competencies that enable individuals to navigate challenges, innovate solutions, and achieve their goals effectively. By understanding the problem, analyzing options, implementing solutions, evaluating results, and continuously improving. Individuals can develop mastery in problem-solving across diverse contexts. These skills benefit individuals in their personal and professional lives and contribute to the advancement of society as a whole.

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What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

problem solving skills definition and examples

Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

problem solving skills definition and examples

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Problem-Solving Therapy Techniques

How effective is problem-solving therapy, things to consider, how to get started.

Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness.

Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression , among other conditions. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional and may be combined with other treatment approaches.

At a Glance

Problem-solving therapy is a short-term treatment used to help people who are experiencing depression, stress, PTSD, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems develop the tools they need to deal with challenges. This approach teaches people to identify problems, generate solutions, and implement those solutions. Let's take a closer look at how problem-solving therapy can help people be more resilient and adaptive in the face of stress.

Problem-solving therapy is based on a model that takes into account the importance of real-life problem-solving. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is to know how to address issues as they arise. Problem-solving therapy is very practical in its approach and is only concerned with the present, rather than delving into your past.

This form of therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group format and may be offered in person or online via telehealth . Sessions can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours long. 

Key Components

There are two major components that make up the problem-solving therapy framework:

  • Applying a positive problem-solving orientation to your life
  • Using problem-solving skills

A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy , and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like:

  • Knowing how to identify a problem
  • Defining the problem in a helpful way
  • Trying to understand the problem more deeply
  • Setting goals related to the problem
  • Generating alternative, creative solutions to the problem
  • Choosing the best course of action
  • Implementing the choice you have made
  • Evaluating the outcome to determine next steps

Problem-solving therapy is all about training you to become adaptive in your life so that you will start to see problems as challenges to be solved instead of insurmountable obstacles. It also means that you will recognize the action that is required to engage in effective problem-solving techniques.

Planful Problem-Solving

One problem-solving technique, called planful problem-solving, involves following a series of steps to fix issues in a healthy, constructive way:

  • Problem definition and formulation : This step involves identifying the real-life problem that needs to be solved and formulating it in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions.
  • Generation of alternative solutions : This stage involves coming up with various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal in this step is to brainstorm options to creatively address the life stressor in ways that you may not have previously considered.
  • Decision-making strategies : This stage involves discussing different strategies for making decisions as well as identifying obstacles that may get in the way of solving the problem at hand.
  • Solution implementation and verification : This stage involves implementing a chosen solution and then verifying whether it was effective in addressing the problem.

Other Techniques

Other techniques your therapist may go over include:

  • Problem-solving multitasking , which helps you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even during times of stress
  • Stop, slow down, think, and act (SSTA) , which is meant to encourage you to become more emotionally mindful when faced with conflict
  • Healthy thinking and imagery , which teaches you how to embrace more positive self-talk while problem-solving

What Problem-Solving Therapy Can Help With

Problem-solving therapy addresses life stress issues and focuses on helping you find solutions to concrete issues. This approach can be applied to problems associated with various psychological and physiological symptoms.

Mental Health Issues

Problem-solving therapy may help address mental health issues, like:

  • Chronic stress due to accumulating minor issues
  • Complications associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Problems associated with a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
  • Self-harm and feelings of hopelessness
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

Specific Life Challenges

This form of therapy is also helpful for dealing with specific life problems, such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Everyday life stressors
  • Family problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relationship conflicts

Your doctor or mental healthcare professional will be able to advise whether problem-solving therapy could be helpful for your particular issue. In general, if you are struggling with specific, concrete problems that you are having trouble finding solutions for, problem-solving therapy could be helpful for you.

Benefits of Problem-Solving Therapy

The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can be helpful for managing all areas of your life. These can include:

  • Being able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger)
  • Confidence that you can handle problems that you face
  • Having a systematic approach on how to deal with life's problems
  • Having a toolbox of strategies to solve the issues you face
  • Increased confidence to find creative solutions
  • Knowing how to identify which barriers will impede your progress
  • Knowing how to manage emotions when they arise
  • Reduced avoidance and increased action-taking
  • The ability to accept life problems that can't be solved
  • The ability to make effective decisions
  • The development of patience (realizing that not all problems have a "quick fix")

Problem-solving therapy can help people feel more empowered to deal with the problems they face in their lives. Rather than feeling overwhelmed when stressors begin to take a toll, this therapy introduces new coping skills that can boost self-efficacy and resilience .

Other Types of Therapy

Other similar types of therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) . While these therapies work to change thinking and behaviors, they work a bit differently. Both CBT and SFBT are less structured than problem-solving therapy and may focus on broader issues. CBT focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thoughts, and SFBT works to help people look for solutions and build self-efficacy based on strengths.

This form of therapy was initially developed to help people combat stress through effective problem-solving, and it was later adapted to address clinical depression specifically. Today, much of the research on problem-solving therapy deals with its effectiveness in treating depression.

Problem-solving therapy has been shown to help depression in: 

  • Older adults
  • People coping with serious illnesses like cancer

Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, offering benefits in as little as six to eight sessions with a therapist or another healthcare professional. This may make it a good option for someone unable to commit to a lengthier treatment for depression.

Problem-solving therapy is not a good fit for everyone. It may not be effective at addressing issues that don't have clear solutions, like seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem-solving therapy is also intended to treat specific problems, not general habits or thought patterns .

In general, it's also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not a primary treatment for mental disorders. If you are living with the symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia , you may need additional treatment with evidence-based approaches for your particular concern.

Problem-solving therapy is best aimed at someone who has a mental or physical issue that is being treated separately, but who also has life issues that go along with that problem that has yet to be addressed.

For example, it could help if you can't clean your house or pay your bills because of your depression, or if a cancer diagnosis is interfering with your quality of life.

Your doctor may be able to recommend therapists in your area who utilize this approach, or they may offer it themselves as part of their practice. You can also search for a problem-solving therapist with help from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society of Clinical Psychology .

If receiving problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental healthcare professional is not an option for you, you could also consider implementing it as a self-help strategy using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills on your own.

During your first session, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and approach. They may ask you to identify the problem you’re currently facing, and they’ll likely discuss your goals for therapy .

Keep In Mind

Problem-solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that's focused on solving a specific issue in your life. If you need further help with something more pervasive, it can also become a longer-term treatment option.

Get Help Now

We've tried, tested, and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, BetterHelp, and ReGain. Find out which option is the best for you.

Shang P, Cao X, You S, Feng X, Li N, Jia Y. Problem-solving therapy for major depressive disorders in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials .  Aging Clin Exp Res . 2021;33(6):1465-1475. doi:10.1007/s40520-020-01672-3

Cuijpers P, Wit L de, Kleiboer A, Karyotaki E, Ebert DD. Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis . Eur Psychiatry . 2018;48(1):27-37. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.11.006

Nezu AM, Nezu CM, D'Zurilla TJ. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual . New York; 2013. doi:10.1891/9780826109415.0001

Owens D, Wright-Hughes A, Graham L, et al. Problem-solving therapy rather than treatment as usual for adults after self-harm: a pragmatic, feasibility, randomised controlled trial (the MIDSHIPS trial) .  Pilot Feasibility Stud . 2020;6:119. doi:10.1186/s40814-020-00668-0

Sorsdahl K, Stein DJ, Corrigall J, et al. The efficacy of a blended motivational interviewing and problem solving therapy intervention to reduce substance use among patients presenting for emergency services in South Africa: A randomized controlled trial . Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy . 2015;10(1):46. doi:doi.org/10.1186/s13011-015-0042-1

Margolis SA, Osborne P, Gonzalez JS. Problem solving . In: Gellman MD, ed. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine . Springer International Publishing; 2020:1745-1747. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_208

Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults . Int J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2016;31(5):526-535. doi:10.1002/gps.4358

Garand L, Rinaldo DE, Alberth MM, et al. Effects of problem solving therapy on mental health outcomes in family caregivers of persons with a new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia: A randomized controlled trial . Am J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2014;22(8):771-781. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.007

Noyes K, Zapf AL, Depner RM, et al. Problem-solving skills training in adult cancer survivors: Bright IDEAS-AC pilot study .  Cancer Treat Res Commun . 2022;31:100552. doi:10.1016/j.ctarc.2022.100552

Albert SM, King J, Anderson S, et al. Depression agency-based collaborative: effect of problem-solving therapy on risk of common mental disorders in older adults with home care needs . The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry . 2019;27(6):619-624. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.01.002

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

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COMMENTS

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    Problem-Solving Skills Definition. Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions. An employee with good problem-solving skills is both a self-starter and a collaborative teammate; they are proactive in understanding the root of a problem and work with others to ...

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    Definitions and Examples. Jennifer Herrity. Updated July 31, 2023. When employers talk about problem-solving skills, they are often referring to the ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations in the workplace as well as complex business challenges. Organizations rely on people who can assess both kinds of situations and calmly ...

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    Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation. Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively. That's why employers value problem ...

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    Problem-solving skills are skills that enable people to handle unexpected situations or difficult challenges at work. Organisations need people who can accurately assess problems and come up with effective solutions. In this article, we explain what problem-solving skills are, provide some examples of these skills and outline how to improve them.

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    Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork. 1. Analysis. As a manager, you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first.

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    Problem-solving skills defined. Problem-solving skills are skills that allow individuals to efficiently and effectively find solutions to issues. This attribute is a primary skill that employers look for in job candidates and is essential in a variety of careers. This skill is considered to be a soft skill, or an individual strength, as opposed ...

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    Problem-solving requires you to create a balance between logic and creativity. You need to use your creativity to find the cause of the issue. It also requires creativity to develop innovative solutions. Creative people bring unique perspectives and give a new direction to the company. Related: 7 Steps to Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills.

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  9. Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions, Examples, and Career Growth

    Problem-solving skills are a crucial aspect of personal and professional development, contributing significantly to one's ability to overcome challenges and excel in their career. In this comprehensive blog, we'll delve into the definition of problem-solving skills, explore real-world examples, and highlight the importance of skill training ...

  10. Problem Solving: Definition, Skills, & Strategies

    Problem-solving is an important skill to develop because life will always throw you curveballs. Being able to respond to these problems with flexibility and calmness will generate much better results than if you respond to the problem with resistance or avoidance. Also, research has shown that increasing problem-solving skills through problem-solving therapy is beneficial for several physical ...

  11. Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

    Although problem-solving is often identified as its own separate skill, there are other related skills that contribute to this ability. Some key problem-solving skills include: Active listening. Analysis. Research. Creativity. Communication. Dependability. Decision making.

  12. What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

    Definition and Importance. Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional ...

  13. Problem Solving Skills: What Are They?

    Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue. It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants. Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness. Since this is a skill that's important ...

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    Definition of problem-solving skills Problem-solving skills involve various attributes, including analytical and critical thinking, decision-making, creativity, and resourcefulness. The ability to think outside the box, coupled with sound judgment, helps individuals weigh various options and identify the most effective solution.

  15. Problem-Solving Skills Examples (With Steps to Develop Them)

    Here are some problem-solving skills examples you may utilise to solve a problem effectively in a workplace: Analysis When you encounter a problem, the first step to solving it is to analyse the issue. Having good analytical skills can help you understand the problem and find out its cause before you find and develop effective solutions for it ...

  16. Problem-Solving Skills: Definition, How To Learn and Example

    Analytical thinking is the ability to assess and process information, and it's a crucial skill when solving problems. You can use analytical thinking to assess the initial problem, analyse the evidence or data and evaluate the possible solutions. This can help you create an effective solution for each obstacle.

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    Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below. Step. Characteristics. 1. Define the problem. Differentiate fact from opinion. Specify underlying causes. Consult each faction involved for information. State the problem specifically.

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    Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace. Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else. Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication. Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer. Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the ...

  20. Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

    When employers talk about problem-solving skills, they are often referring to the ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations in the workplace as well as complex business challenges. Organisations rely on people who can assess both kinds of situations and calmly identify solutions. Problem-solving skills are traits that enable you to do that. While problem-solving … Continue reading ...

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    Problem-solving is the ability to use appropriate methods to tackle unexpected challenges in an organized manner. The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill, meaning that it's more of a personality trait than a skill you've learned at school, on-the-job, or through technical training. While your natural ability to tackle ...

  22. Mastering Problem-Solving Skills: Definition and Examples

    Example: A teacher who introduces a new teaching method in the classroom may assess student performance, gather feedback from students and colleagues, and adjust the approach based on the observed outcomes. Continuous Improvement. Problem-solving skills are not static but evolve through practice and experience. Individuals can enhance their abilities by seeking feedback, learning from failures ...

  23. Problem-Solving Therapy: Definition, Techniques, and Efficacy

    Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness. Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression ...