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Developing Effective Problem-Solving Skills

(SmartPros) In most organizations, solving business or other work-related problems is the responsibility of a manager, but it is never too early to start acquiring the necessary skills. The key to handling problems in a professional manner is not to let your emotions get in the way- analyze the problem and examine the underlying causes before coming up with a solution and the means to achieving it.

Ken, a senior manager at KPMG's Information Risk Management practice, points to a situation that can present a problem for anyone, regardless of job title or level: dealing with a difficult client. The question, he says, is how do you build a good relationship with the client so that there is the free flow of information you need to do a good job?

"Recognize the problem and don't be intimidated by it," advises Ken. "The problem could be that the client has a poor opinion of auditors. Just try to understand where it comes from. It may not be pointed at you but coming from a previous experience the client has had."

Finding a common ground helps break communication barriers. "If you find out that the client is interested in golf, then talk about golfing. Don't always be focused on the job," says Ken.

Good problem solvers have a systematic approach to solving the problem. They understand that quick solutions or hastily conceived plans rarely work and yield results that are short-term, at best. Spend time analyzing the problem from all possible angles. Come up with a backup plan, in case the original idea fails.

Consider, for example, a situation that managers sometimes face: A job applicant they are seriously considering asks for a higher salary. One option is to offer the candidate an alternative, like tuition reimbursement or location in another office. The candidate might actually re-think his or her position and trade in the demand for a higher salary for potential career growth.

Instances like this show that negotiation is a useful tool for problem solving. Negotiations call for making decisions, but decision-making styles vary from one person to another and from one organization to another. It is often the culture of the organization that determines the style of making decisions.

Good executives expect crisis and are prepared for it. The crisis may be the result of bad employee relations, poor products or outdated technology. Whatever the case, however, the scenario is anticipated and the plan of action thought out ahead of time. This rule can come in handy for anyone, whether just starting a career or at a senior level. Elizabeth Dole, former president of the American Red Cross-an organization that relies on help from others-once said: "The middle of a disaster is the poorest possible time to establish relationships."

Some rules to keep in mind when solving problems: Maintain an open and honest communication with the people involved and do not resort to personal attacks or finger- pointing. Observe how your supervisor tackles a tricky situation. This will also help you gain valuable insights into ways your organization functions.

2001, Smartpros Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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