Problem solving is a surprisingly hard skill to learn. Often when we are trying to solve a problem, we think about it for a few seconds and pick the first thing that comes to mind. Unfortunately, this is not a great strategy for challenging or important problems.
Learning proper problem solving steps can help you in many areas of your life. Let’s go through the steps briefly.
- Describe your problem. Here’s where you need to describe your problem in some detail, sticking closely to the facts. This last part is important as we often get caught up in judgments and labels when a problem is frustrating us.
- Brainstorm possible solutions. In the brainstorming stage you are listing all possible solutions to your problem, no matter how realistic. Research has actually shown that limiting your answers during brainstorming will reduce the number of good solutions you will find. So be as creative as you want here. It’s also important to only focus on brainstorming; often people will start to look at the pros and cons of the solution right away. However, we have a whole step dedicated to looking at the pros and cons, so try to focus on just generating a list of solutions.
- Evaluate your options. Now you can spend some time looking at the pros and cons of the solutions. If you made a very long list during the brainstorming stage, maybe you only look at the top five solutions. You could get away with looking at fewer solutions, but then you run the risk of not examining enough diverse options. When you are thinking about pros and cons, consider what the short-term and long-term consequences might be.
- Select the best available solution. After you have looked at the pros and cons of several possible solutions, it’s time to pick the best one. This does not mean the solution is perfect or has no cons. In the real world, there are usually compromises that need to be made. Here, we are looking for the one with the most upsides and the fewest downsides. It’s OK to look at what logically makes sense, but also consider how you will feel about the decision as well. Picking the best solution is a mix of being logical and trusting your gut. Of course, the most important thing after picking the solution is actually going out there and putting the solution into action.
- Evaluate the outcome. Now that you have picked the solution and have put it into action, it’s time to consider whether your solution solved your problem. If you feel like the solution worked, or worked well enough, then you are done! However, if you didn’t get your problem resolved in a satisfactory manner, then it’s time to go back to your list of possible solutions and pick the next best one. Sometimes there are events or things that are out of our control that impact the problem. As such, even if your original best solution didn’t work out, it’s not a reason to despair. You may not have necessarily done anything wrong. However, as is often the case in life, being flexible and trying another solution can be really important. And you never know, what you thought was your second best solution may turn out to be the best for everyone involved in the end.
Now that we have briefly covered the run-down of this worksheet, it’s time to try it out. Click the image above or the link below for access to a pdf version of this Problem Solving Steps worksheet.