Problem-Solving Strategies Help (page 2)
Introduction to Problem-Solving Strategies
"The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it."
—Voltaire, French writer and philosopher (1694–1778)
You face problems every day, and sometimes they can be overwhelming. In this lesson, you'll learn how to pinpoint the main issue of a problem and how to break it down into its various parts, thus making the problem more manageable.
And we will show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that my client is not guilty of committing the heinous act he is accused of." If you've ever watched a legal drama or sat on a jury yourself, this statement should sound familiar. You probably know that sometimes jury members are faced with very serious dilemmas. In fact, many times, the fate of a defendant rests in their final decision, or verdict.
Luckily, not all situations or problems are as formidable as deciding the destiny of another human being. But everyone faces his or her share of problems, and it's important to handle them quickly and effectively. Critical thinking and reasoning skills can help you do just that.
What Is a Problem?
Let's begin by defining the word problem. In terms of critical thinking and reasoning skills, a problem is any situation or matter that is challenging to solve, thus requiring you to make a difficult decision. That decision can be about anything—how to answer a perplexing question, how to handle a complicated situation, how to convince someone to see your point of view, or even how to solve a puzzle or mystery. For example, you might face the following kinds of problems:
|Questions:||Should a U.S. presidential term be more than four years? Should you report your coworker for stealing?|
|Situations:||Your friends are pressuring you to go to a party tonight, but you promised your brother you'd help him on a project. What do you do?|
|Convincing:||How do you convince Joe that he shouldn't treat his girlfriend so poorly?|
|Solving:||Who stole the money from the safe? How can you make enough money to pay for college?|
Identifying the Problem
The first step to solving any problem is to identify the problem. This may sound obvious—of course you need to know what the problem is. But it's important to take this step, because in real life, with all its complications, it's easy to lose sight of the real problem at hand. When this happens, the problem becomes much more complicated than it needs to be because you end up focusing on secondary issues rather than what's really at stake.
Once you've identified the problem, you need to break it down into its parts. This is an essential step because it gives you a sense of the scope of the problem. How big is it? How many issues are there? Sometimes, at first glance, problems seem so big that a solution seems impossible. Other times, you may underestimate the size of a problem and end up making a poor decision because you overlook an important factor. By breaking a problem down into its parts, you may find it's not as big a problem as you thought—or that it's much more complicated than you initially anticipated. Either way, when you break a problem down, you make it manageable—big or small, you can take it on one issue at a time.
When you break the problem down into parts, you might turn them into a list. Putting them in writing can often give them more validity to you. It might also inspire you to come up with more details than you might have if you'd keep them in your head.
Breaking the Problem into Its Parts
Now that you've identified the main problem, it's time to identify the various parts of that problem. You already know several issues:
Problem: How to get the team working together again
Parts of the problem:
- Who started the fight
- What really happened
- Whose version of what happened you should believe
- How to prevent future disputes
As you think about the different parts of a problem, pretend for a moment that you are a journalist. Ask the most important questions that any skilled newspaper writer does: who, what, when, where, why, and how. These can lead you to data you might have missed before.
Tackling the Issue
The next step is to decide how to tackle the issues above. Clearly, some are more important than others, and some must be addressed before others. That's why it's essential to rank the parts of the problem in the order in which you think they should be addressed. Which issues need to be dealt with first? Second? Third? Are there some issues that must be solved before you can deal with others?
Relevance of Issues
When you're breaking down a problem, it's important that you make sure your issues are relevant to the problem. That is, each issue should be clearly related to the matter at hand. It's often obvious when something isn't relevant. Whether you like your pizza plain or with pepperoni, for example, clearly has nothing to do with this problem. But something like who has been on the job longer might be relevant. It depends upon what the fight was about.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that personal preferences are often brought in as issues when they shouldn't be. For example, you may like certain members of your production team better than others, but that doesn't mean that these people are more believable than the others. In other words, your friendship with one or the other, or lack thereof, should not be relevant to the situation.
Problem-Solving Strategies In Short
A problem is any situation or matter that is challenging to solve, thus requiring you to make a difficult decision. Breaking problems down can help you make even big problems manageable. The first step to effective problem solving is to clearly identify the main problem. Then, break the problem down into its various parts. After you rank the parts in order of priority, check to make sure each issue is relevant.
Skill Building until Next Time
- Take a problem that you come across today and break it down. Identify the main issue and each of its parts. Then, prioritize the parts.
- While sitcoms often drastically simplify the problems we face in real life, dramas like Law and Order and Grey's Anatomy or House often show characters dealing with complex problems. Watch one of these shows and notice how the characters work through their problems. Do they correctly identify the real problem? Do they break it down into its parts? Evaluate their problem-solving strategies.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Problem-Solving Strategies Practice.
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