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Solve Problems in Five Steps

Take a process-oriented approach to problem solving to determine the cause of a problem and the steps to take to resolve it.

You use problem-solving skills daily, usually without even noticing. As you move and explore new job opportunities or need to make decisions at work, you're constantly weighing your options and deciding the best course of action. You may not even realize that these problem-solving skills are critical to making smart decisions. Problem solving is a learned skill that doesn't always come naturally. Understanding key steps to solve problems can help you feel more confident and less overwhelmed when making decisions.

Identify the problem. You can't solve a problem until you know what it is. You will find that issues on the surface often relate to a bigger problem. Here are some steps you can take to identify the core issue.

Take a step back and ask yourself,

  • "What is really causing the difficulty?"
    Think about your emotions and what has you so frustrated. Is it that you disagree with an approach? Do you feel attacked? Is it that you aren't feeling heard? Understanding what has you rattled is step one in identifying the problem. Then ask yourself:
  • "What are the consequences of the difficulty?"
    Will you miss a deadline? Will someone be injured? Will you be fired? Will the project suffer?

Write a problem statement. Once you answer these questions, you can write a problem statement or at least think of one in your head. A problem statement sums up the issue and its consequences in a sentence. Once you have identified the problem, you can move on to finding ways to fix it.

Analyze the problem. To fix a problem, you need to know the root cause. Gather information on the problem. Is it that someone misunderstood a requirement? Were directions unclear? Do outside circumstances keep someone from fixing the problem? If you can't find the answers easily, you'll have to do some digging. To effectively solve a problem, you'll need to evaluate the issue from all angles, considering all factors. Once you truly understand the problem, you are ready to develop a solution.

Generate possible solutions. Brainstorm as many solutions as possible. At this stage, there are no right or wrong answers, only different courses of action. Brainstorm possible outcomes for each solution and pick the most comfortable solution.

Implement the solution. Once you've decided on a solution, stick to it. The reality is that you can't solve a problem without taking some sort of action - even if it turns out that you need to change your approach later. Do not let yourself get stuck in brainstorming mode and don't be afraid to make a decision and follow through. Make a choice, stick to it and reassess later if your solution doesn't work out the way you want.

Career coaches are a great resource for learning additional problem-solving and planning techniques to help you meet your career and education goals. You can work one-on-one with a coach to talk about your particular situation and develop a plan to help you meet your needs. You can speak with a career coach by calling 800-342-9647 or using the Live Chat feature on MySECO.

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