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Decision-making and Problem-solving
Appreciate the complexities involved in decision-making & problem solving.
Develop evidence to support views
Analyze situations carefully
Discuss subjects in an organized way
Predict the consequences of actions
Generate and organize ideas
Form and apply concepts
Design systematic plans of action
A 5-Step Problem-Solving Strategy
Specify the problem – a first step to solving a problem is to identify it as specifically as possible. It involves evaluating the present state and determining how it differs from the goal state.
Analyze the problem – analyzing the problem involves learning as much as you can about it. It may be necessary to look beyond the obvious, surface situation, to stretch your imagination and reach for more creative options.
seek other perspectives
be flexible in your analysis
consider various strands of impact
brainstorm about all possibilities and implications
research problems for which you lack complete information. Get help.
Formulate possible solutions – identify a wide range of possible solutions.
try to think of all possible solutions
consider similar problems and how you have solved them
Evaluate possible solutions – weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. Think through each solution and consider how, when, and where you could accomplish each. Consider both immediate and long-term results. Mapping your solutions can be helpful at this stage.
Choose a solution – consider 3 factors:
compatibility with your priorities
amount of risk
Keys to Problem Solving
Think aloud – problem solving is a cognitive, mental process. Thinking aloud or talking yourself through the steps of problem solving is useful. Hearing yourself think can facilitate the process.
Allow time for ideas to "gel" or consolidate. If time permits, give yourself time for solutions to develop. Distance from a problem can allow you to clear your mind and get a new perspective.
Talk about the problem – describing the problem to someone else and talking about it can often make a problem become more clear and defined so that a new solution will surface.
Decision Making Strategies
Decision making is a process of identifying and evaluating choices. We make numerous decisions every day and our decisions may range from routine, every-day types of decisions to those decisions which will have far reaching impacts. The types of decisions we make are routine, impulsive, and reasoned. Deciding what to eat for breakfast is a routine decision; deciding to do or buy something at the last minute is considered an impulsive decision; and choosing your college major is, hopefully, a reasoned decision. College coursework often requires you to make the latter, or reasoned decisions.
Decision making has much in common with problem solving. In problem solving you identify and evaluate solution paths; in decision making you make a similar discovery and evaluation of alternatives. The crux of decision making, then, is the careful identification and evaluation of alternatives. As you weigh alternatives, use the following suggestions:
Consider the outcome each is likely to produce, in both the short term and the long term.
Compare alternatives based on how easily you can accomplish each.
Evaluate possible negative side effects each may produce.
Consider the risk involved in each.
Be creative, original; don't eliminate alternatives because you have not heard or used them before.
An important part of decision making is to predict both short-term and long-term outcomes for each alternative. You may find that while an alternative seems most desirable at the present, it may pose problems or complications over a longer time period.
- Uses of Critical Thinking
- Critically Evaluating the Logic and Validity of Information
- Recognizing Propaganda Techniques and Errors of Faulty Logic
- Developing the Ability to Analyze Historical and Contemporary Information
- Recognize and Value Various Viewpoints
- Appreciating the Complexities Involved in Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
- Being a Responsible Critical Thinker & Collaborating with Others
- Read the Textbook
- When to Take Notes
- 10 Steps to Tests
- Studying for Exams
- Test-Taking Errors
- Test Anxiety
- Objective Tests
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- The Reading Process
- Levels of Comprehension
- Strengthen Your Reading Comprehension
- Reading Rate
- How to Read a Textbook
- Organizational Patterns of a Paragraph
- Topics, Main Ideas, and Support
- Inferences and Conclusions
- Interpreting What You Read
- Concentrating and Remembering
- Converting Words into Pictures
- Spelling and the Dictionary
- Eight Essential Spelling Rules
- Exceptions to the Rules
- Motivation and Goal Setting
- Effective Studying
- Time Management
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- Memory and Learning Styles
- Textbook Reading Strategies
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- The First Step
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- An Effective Strategy
- Finding the Main Idea
- Read a Medical Text
- Read in the Sciences
- Read University Level
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- The Origin of Words
- Using a Dictionary
- Interpreting a Dictionary Entry
- Structure Analysis
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- Word Relationships
- Using Word Relationships
- Context Clues
- The Importance of Reading
- Vocabulary Analogies
- Guide to Talking with Instructors
- Writing Help
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Organization and Self-Management
22 Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making
Types of decision makers.
Problem solving and decision making belong together. You cannot solve a problem without making a decision. There are two main types of decision makers. Some people use a systematic, rational approach. Others are more intuitive. They go with their emotions or a gut feeling about the right approach. They may have highly creative ways to address the problem, but cannot explain why they have chosen this approach.
Six Problem-Solving Steps
The most effective method uses both rational and intuitive or creative approaches. There are six steps in the process:
Identify the problem
Search for alternatives, weigh the alternatives, make a choice.
- Implement the choice
- Evaluate the results and, if necessary, start the process again
To solve a problem, you must first determine what the problem actually is. You may think you know, but you need to check it out. Sometimes, it is easy to focus on symptoms, not causes. You use a rational approach to determine what the problem is. The questions you might ask include:
- What have I (or others) observed?
- What was I (or others) doing at the time the problem occurred?
- Is this a problem in itself or a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem?
- What information do I need?
- What have we already tried to address this problem?
For example, the apprentice you supervise comes to you saying that the electric warming oven is not working properly. Before you call a repair technician, you may want to ask a few questions. You may want to find out what the apprentice means by “not working properly.” Does he or she know how to operate the equipment? Did he or she check that the equipment was plugged in? Was the fuse or circuit breaker checked? When did it last work?
You may be able to avoid an expensive service call. At the very least, you will be able to provide valuable information to the repair technician that aids in the troubleshooting process.
Of course, many of the problems that you will face in the kitchen are much more complex than a malfunctioning oven. You may have to deal with problems such as:
- Discrepancies between actual and expected food costs
- Labour costs that have to be reduced
- Lack of budget to complete needed renovations in the kitchen
- Disputes between staff
However, the basic problem-solving process remains the same even if the problems identified differ. In fact, the more complex the problem is, the more important it is to be methodical in your problem-solving approach.
It may seem obvious what you have to do to address the problem. Occasionally, this is true, but most times, it is important to identify possible alternatives. This is where the creative side of problem solving really comes in.
Brainstorming with a group can be an excellent tool for identifying potential alternatives. Think of as many possibilities as possible. Write down these ideas, even if they seem somewhat zany or offbeat on first impression. Sometimes really silly ideas can contain the germ of a superb solution. Too often, people move too quickly into making a choice without really considering all of the options. Spending more time searching for alternatives and weighing their consequences can really pay off.
Once a number of ideas have been generated, you need to assess each of them to see how effective they might be in addressing the problem. Consider the following factors:
- Impact on the organization
- Effect on public relations
- Impact on employees and organizational climate
- Ethics of actions
- Whether this course is permitted under collective agreements
- Whether this idea can be used to build on another idea
Some individuals and groups avoid making decisions. Not making a decision is in itself a decision. By postponing a decision, you may eliminate a number of options and alternatives. You lose control over the situation. In some cases, a problem can escalate if it is not dealt with promptly. For example, if you do not handle customer complaints promptly, the customer is likely to become even more annoyed. You will have to work much harder to get a satisfactory solution.
Implement the decision
Once you have made a decision, it must be implemented. With major decisions, this may involve detailed planning to ensure that all parts of the operation are informed of their part in the change. The kitchen may need a redesign and new equipment. Employees may need additional training. You may have to plan for a short-term closure while the necessary changes are being made. You will have to inform your customers of the closure.
Evaluate the outcome
Whenever you have implemented a decision, you need to evaluate the results. The outcomes may give valuable advice about the decision-making process, the appropriateness of the choice, and the implementation process itself. This information will be useful in improving the company’s response the next time a similar decision has to be made.
Your creative side is most useful in identifying new or unusual alternatives. Too often, you can get stuck in a pattern of thinking that has been successful in the past. You think of ways that you have handled similar problems in the past. Sometimes this is successful, but when you are faced with a new problem or when your solutions have failed, you may find it difficult to generate new ideas.
If you have a problem that seems to have no solution, try these ideas to “unfreeze” your mind:
- Relax before trying to identify alternatives.
- Play “what if” games with the problem. For example, What if money was no object? What if we could organize a festival? What if we could change winter into summer?
- Borrow ideas from other places and companies. Trade magazines might be useful in identifying approaches used by other companies.
- Give yourself permission to think of ideas that seem foolish or that appear to break the rules. For example, new recipes may come about because someone thought of new ways to combine foods. Sometimes these new combinations appear to break rules about complementary tastes or break boundaries between cuisines from different parts of the world. The results of such thinking include the combined bar and laundromat and the coffee places with Internet access for customers.
- Use random inputs to generate new ideas. For example, walk through the local shopping mall trying to find ways to apply everything you see to the problem.
- Turn the problem upside down. Can the problem be seen as an opportunity? For example, the road outside your restaurant that is the only means of accessing your parking lot is being closed due to a bicycle race. Perhaps you could see the bicycle race as an opportunity for business rather than as a problem.
Working in the Food Service Industry by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Did you choose cereal or a bagel? Why? Or what if you missed the bus? How did you solve this problem? Problem-solving and decision-making are skills we use all day, every day. But what is actually involved in these processes? Let's read on and find out.
In this article, we will begin by discussing the similarities and differences between problem-solving and decision-making.
Then, we'll lay out the problem-solving and decision-making steps.
As we continue, we'll look at the criteria for decision-making and problem-solving.
We will then list the types of problems in decision-making.
Finally, we'll take a look at a few examples of decision-making problems.
Problem-Solving and Decision-Making: Similarities and Differences
Both problem-solving and decision-making are mental processes that involve the use of information to determine an action. Both require identification and evaluation. Decision-making may be part of problem-solving and problem-solving may be part of decision-making.
However problem-solving and decision-making have noticeable differences.
Problem-solving means that a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure.
Decision-making, on the other hand, requires a person to make choices or to choose between options (or not).
Decision-making is also usually clearer at the start than problem-solving. When making a decision the choices are often quite clear and clearly presented. But with problem-solving, the biggest part of the battle might be identifying what the problem itself is.
A detective must solve the problem by solving a case. A judge must make decisions such as determining bail, sentencing, and other trial procedures.
Also, the process of problem-solving and decision-making can look different in the brain. The point at which you find a solution to a problem can often feel like a lightbulb going off in your head. In some ways, that is similar to what occurs in the brain.
Research shows that the frontal lobe (responsible for focusing attention) is most active while a person is trying to solve a problem. But once they have found the solution, suddenly, there is a burst of activity in the right temporal lobe (Myers, 2014). Making a decision, however, is usually a much more gradual process.
Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Steps
Problem-solving and decision-making steps can look very similar. However, to go about them the same exact way would be an incorrect approach. Let's take a look at the specific steps in problem-solving and decision-making.
The steps are: specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate solutions, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome.
1. Specify the Problem
As mentioned earlier, one of the most challenging steps in problem-solving is identifying what the problem is in the first place. A good way to start is to determine what the goal state is and how it differs from the present state.
2. Analyze the Problem
What are the potential causes of the problem? What does the presentation of this problem mean for the situation? Try to research the problem as much as possible and collect as much information as you can.
3. Formulate Solutions
Begin formulating solutions. but don't feel pressured to know exactly what to do at this stage – simply brainstorm as many solutions as possible and be creative. Consider other problems or situations you've faced in the past and if you can apply what you learned to this problem.
4. Evaluate Solutions
Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each solution and how well it will actually solve the problem. Try to imagine the possible outcomes of each solution. Consider whether the solution solves all of the problem or only parts of it.
5. Choose a Solution
This is the "aha" moment in problem-solving. We often arrive at a solution through insight. Insight is the sudden realization of the solution to a problem. You have considered several possibilities and finally, the right one has finally clicked.
6. Evaluate the outcome
None of us are capable of finding the perfect solution to our problems 100% of the time. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board. Don't be discouraged! The last step to problem-solving is to evaluate the outcome of the solution. Even if it is not the outcome you expected, you have the opportunity to learn from it.
Decision-making may involve problem-solving – but not always. The six steps to problem-solving are as follows: specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate possible solutions, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome.
1. Identify the Decision or Goal
First, identify what your goal is and why you need to make a decision. Knowing why you're making a decision makes it more likely you'll stick with it and defend it.
2. Gather Information
What information do you need to understand the situation and the decision you have to make? Reach out to people you trust and those who have a better understanding than you.
3. Identify Alternatives
Next, identify what your options are. It is important to note that when making a decision, you are not required to make a choice between the alternatives. But even not making a choice is a decision that you consciously make.
4. Weigh the Evidence
This is a great time to use a pros and cons list. Consider the impact each alternative may have and potential outcomes.
5. Choose Among Alternatives
Finally, you are ready to choose an alternative. This step may be intimidating, but considering the following questions may help you decide the best path forward:
Is this solution compatible with my priorities?
Is there any risk involved in this solution and is it worth the risk?
Is this a practical solution or would it be far too difficult or even impossible?
6. Take Action
While not always required after solving a problem, making a decision almost always requires you to take action.
You've chosen what college to go to, now you must respond to your acceptance letters and notify the schools you don't want to go to that you will not be attending.
7. Evaluate the outcome
Similar to problem-solving, it would be unrealistic for any of us to know all the information or see every perspective while making a decision. Evaluate the consequences – good or bad – of your decision and then adjust future decisions accordingly.
Criteria for Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
The criteria for decision-making and problem-solving include abstract thinking and reasoning and the ability to use decision-making and problem-solving methods.
Abstract Thinking and Reasoning
To make decisions, a person should at least have the capacity to weigh various options . Young children might not be able to grasp abstract thinking and reasoning, as this skill doesn't develop until adolescence .
If you ask a toddler what they want for lunch, it's best to give them only a couple of options, like chicken nuggets or Mac-n-cheese.
Leaving their options wide open or giving them too many options will probably lead to them saying no or choosing something they don't actually want and guaranteeing a tantrum later.
The same could be said for problem-solving: a person must have the capacity to think of as many solutions as possible which requires abstract thinking and reasoning. One should be able to recognize a problem and determine its significance.
Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Methods
Many times when solving a problem, our strategy is to just do trial and error. Try one solution, if it doesn't work, try another, and another, and another until the problem is solved. Or we may use other techniques to solve a problem. For example, we may try to solve a problem using whatever method we know will guarantee the correct solution or algorithm .
Algorithms are logical rules or procedures that are guaranteed to generate the correct solution to a problem.
Algorithms are most often used in mathematics or chemistry because if you know how to use a formula correctly, you will always get the correct answer. This may be an effective way to solve some problems, but it can be time-consuming.
You are asked to figure out what word can be formed using the following letters: YSCPOGLHOY. You could use an algorithm by finding all the thousands of possible combinations until you land on the correct word. However, this would take far too long.
An alternative method to solve the problem is to use the same methods or information we used to solve similar problems. This is called heuristics .
Heuristics are shortcuts we use that allow us to solve problems and make judgments efficiently.
Types of Problems in Decision-Making
Most of the decisions we make day-to-day require very little time and effort. We follow our intuition to decide which way to take home based on traffic or make snap judgments when deciding which candy to take from the candy jar. Using shortcuts such as heuristics saves us time but without much conscious awareness. This will inevitably lead to errors. Let's take a look at the problems in decision-making including confirmation bias , representative heuristic, availability heuristic , and overconfidence.
Problems in Decision-making
Throughout life, we all begin to form concrete ideas and beliefs. When we are more eager to seek evidence in favor of our ideas or beliefs than against them, this is called confirmation bias. This is a consequence of fixation (inability to see other perspectives) and mental set (solving problems the way we've solved similar ones before).
We all build prototypes (mental image) of people, places, and things in our world. Our brains form prototypes to understand and categorize our world, but we get into trouble when we believe our prototypes are always true. The representativeness heuristic is when we estimate the likelihood of an event based on whether or not it fits the prototypes we have formed of people, places, things, or events.
A person walks into the store with leather pants, a leather jacket, and tattoos all over. Are they more likely to be a biker or a school teacher? If you answered a biker, then you are using your prototype of what a biker looks like to make your decision, rather than using the base rate. It's more likely that person is a teacher because there are far more teachers in the world than bikers.
We may also fall victim to the availability heuristic while making decisions. The availability heuristic is when we estimate the likelihood of events based on how available they are in our memory or how vivid similar events occurred previously. The availability heuristic can lead to us placing our fear in the wrong places. It is far more likely for a person to die from heart disease than a shark attack but we are much more afraid of sharks than we are of unhealthy foods like donuts.
Confidence is not a bad thing. People who have a lot of self-confidence usually live happily, make tough decisions easily, and seem competent. But when we are too confident in the accuracy of our beliefs and judgments, it may lead to errors. In fact, people who are overconfident are usually more likely to be wrong. Stockbrokers often fall victim to this when they are sure they can outsmart the stock market, and go all-in on a stock only to lose everything. However, if we get clear feedback and actually receive it, we may be able to avoid the pitfalls of overconfidence.
Decision-Making Problems: Examples
The representativeness heuristic can easily lead to stereotypes and discrimination . Following 9/11, Arab Americans often faced discrimination because people began to form a prototype (really a stereotype) of what terrorists looked like. For example, Arab Americans might have experienced more strenuous security checks at the airport.
Even though almost all Arab-Americans are peace-loving people, many began to assume if they looked the part they were "more likely" to be terrorists. This still continues today. White supremacy groups have been responsible for more terrorist attacks in America than any other organization according to the New York Times (2020) , yet many people still feel more threatened by a man in a turban than a white man.
Problem Solving and Decision Making - Key takeaways
- Problem-solving means that a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure. Decision-making, on the other hand, requires a person to make choices or to choose between options (or not).
- The six steps to problem-solving are as follows: specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate possible solutions, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome.
- To make decisions and problem-solve, a person should at least have the capacity to weigh various options . Young children might not be able to grasp abstract thinking and reasoning as this skill doesn't develop until adolescence .
- Let's take a look at the problems in decision-making including confirmation bias , representative heuristic, availability heuristic , and overconfidence.
- The representativeness heuristic can easily lead to stereotypes and discrimination . Following 9/11, Arab-Americans often faced discrimination because people began to form a prototype (really a stereotype) of what terrorists looked like.
- Myers, D. G. Myers' Psychology for AP. Worth Publishers. 2014.
Frequently Asked Questions about Problem Solving and Decision Making
--> what is problem solving and decision making.
Problem-solving means that a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure.
--> What is the difference between problem-solving and decision-making?
Problem-solving might not require action while decision-making almost always requires an action to follow.
--> What process involves influencing group problem solving and decision making?
The process of group problem-solving and decision-making should involve defining the problem, determining the cause, developing alternatives, assessing the consequences, and developing an action plan.
--> Why are decision making and problem-solving important?
Decision-making and problem-solving are important skills that can be used in all aspects of life including work, family, friends, relationships, and learning.
--> What are the steps in problem-solving and decision-making?
Problem-solving and decision-making involves the following:
1. Identify the decision or problem
2. Gathering information or analyzing the problem
3. Finding solutions or considering alternatives,
4. Choose a solution or choice
5. Evaluate the outcome
Final Problem Solving and Decision Making Quiz
Problem solving and decision making quiz - teste dein wissen.
True or False? Decision-making is also usually clearer at the start than problem-solving.
How does problem-solving resemble a light bulb going off in the brain?
Research shows that the frontal lobe (responsible for focusing attention) is most active while a person is trying to solve a problem. But once they have found the solution, suddenly, there is a burst of activity in the right temporal lobe (Myers, 2014.).
What is the first step of problem-solving?
Specify the problem
__________ are logical rules or procedures that are guaranteed to generate the correct solution to a problem.
What are heuristics?
Heuristics are shortcuts we use that allow us to solve problems and make judgments efficiently.
Consider the following letters: YSCPOGLHOY. What problem-solving method should you use to figure out what word the letters form?
When we are more eager to seek evidence in favor of our ideas or beliefs than against them, this is called _____________.
The ______________ is when we estimate the likelihood of an event based on whether or not it fits the prototypes we have formed of people, places, things, or events.
_______________ is when we estimate the likelihood of events based on how available they are in our memory or how vivid similar events occurred previously.
A person walks into the store with leather pants, a leather jacket, and tattoos all over. Are they more likely to be a biker or a school teacher? If a person assumed the person that walked in is a biker, they are using what type of decision-making problem?
True or False? When we are too confident in the accuracy of our beliefs and judgments, it may lead to errors.
True or False? The representativeness heuristic rarely leads to stereotypes and discrimination.
True or False? We usually develop strong problem-solving and decision-making skills during early childhood.
Why is it best to give a toddler only a couple of options for lunch rather than broadly asking them to decide what they want to eat?
Young children might not be able to grasp abstract thinking and reasoning as this skill doesn't develop until adolescence.
What are three questions you could ask yourself while choosing among the alternatives in decision-making?
Is this a practical solution or would it be far too difficult and even impossible?
When does problem-solving happen?
When a person is trying to find a solution to a problem, whether it's ongoing, intermittent, or a one-time failure
When does decision-making happen?
When a person has to choose between options (or not)
What similarities do problem-solving and decision-making share?
Identification and evaluation
Which has a more gradual increase of brain activity?
What is the correct order of steps when problem-solving?
Specify the problem, analyze the problem, formulate solutions, evaluate solutions, choose a solution, evaluate the outcome
Why is evaluating the outcome an important step in problem-solving?
It allows you to go back and make sure you found the right answer. If not, this gives you an opportunity to try to find another answer.
Why is identifying alternatives an important step in decision-making?
You fully understand all the options you are choosing between
Why is gathering information an important step in the decision-making process?
You need to get more information in order to be knowledgable when making your decision
Can a child make decisions?
Yes, but not well-thought out ones. Abstract thinking and reasoning are important steps in decision-making which are qualities that children are still developing.
What is a beneficial attribute about an algorithm?
It will get you the right answer, guaranteed
What is something bad about the use of an algorithm?
It can be very time-consuming
What is a beneficial attribute of heuristics?
It can help you use mental shortcuts to get to the answer quicker
What is a negative attribute of heuristics?
You won't always get the right answer
Why is confirmation bias a problem in decision-making?
It causes us to see things a certain way (the way we want them to) and will find people or sources that will agree with what we believe, swaying our decision
Why is overconfidence a problem when it comes to decision-making?
Someone who is overconfident is more likely to make the wrong decision
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10 Effective Techniques To Master Problem Solving And Decision Making Skills
Understanding problem solving & decision making, why are problem solving and decision making skills essential in the workplace, five techniques for effective problem solving, five techniques for effective decision making, frequently asked questions.
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- Improved efficiency and productivity: Employees with strong problem solving and decision making skills are better equipped to identify and solve issues that may arise in their work. This leads to improved efficiency and productivity as they can complete their work more timely and effectively.
- Improved customer satisfaction: Problem solving and decision making skills also help employees address any concerns or issues customers may have. This leads to enhanced customer satisfaction as customers feel their needs are being addressed and their problems are resolved.
- Effective teamwork: When working in teams, problem solving and decision making skills are essential for effective collaboration . Groups that can effectively identify and solve problems together are more likely to successfully achieve their goals.
- Innovation: Effective problem-solving and decision-making skills are also crucial for driving innovation in the workplace. Employees who think creatively and develop new solutions to problems are more likely to develop innovative ideas to move the business forward.
- Risk management: Problem solving and decision making skills are also crucial for managing risk in the workplace. By identifying potential risks and developing strategies to mitigate them, employees can help minimize the negative impact of risks on the business.
- Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a technique for generating creative ideas and solutions to problems. In a brainstorming session, a group of people share their thoughts and build on each other’s suggestions. The goal is to generate a large number of ideas in a short amount of time. For example, a team of engineers could use brainstorming to develop new ideas for improving the efficiency of a manufacturing process.
- Root Cause Analysis: Root cause analysis is a technique for identifying the underlying cause of a problem. It involves asking “why” questions to uncover the root cause of the problem. Once the root cause is identified, steps can be taken to address it. For example, a hospital could use root cause analysis to investigate why patient falls occur and identify the root cause, such as inadequate staffing or poor lighting.
- SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis is a technique for evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or situation. It involves assessing internal and external factors that could impact the problem and identifying ways to leverage strengths and opportunities while minimizing weaknesses and threats. For example, a small business could use SWOT analysis to evaluate its market position and identify opportunities to expand its product line or improve its marketing.
- Pareto Analysis: Pareto analysis is a technique for identifying the most critical problems to address. It involves ranking problems by impact and frequency and first focusing on the most significant issues. For example, a software development team could use Pareto analysis to prioritize bugs and issues to fix based on their impact on the user experience.
- Decision Matrix Analysis: Decision matrix analysis evaluates alternatives and selects the best course of action. It involves creating a matrix to compare options based on criteria and weighting factors and selecting the option with the highest score. For example, a manager could use decision matrix analysis to evaluate different software vendors based on criteria such as price, features, and support and select the vendor with the best overall score.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: Cost-benefit analysis is a technique for evaluating the costs and benefits of different options. It involves comparing each option’s expected costs and benefits and selecting the one with the highest net benefit. For example, a company could use cost-benefit analysis to evaluate a new product line’s potential return on investment.
- Decision Trees: Decision trees are a visual representation of the decision-making process . They involve mapping out different options and their potential outcomes and probabilities. This helps to identify the best course of action based on the likelihood of different outcomes. For example, a farmer could use a decision tree to choose crops to plant based on the expected weather patterns.
- SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis can also be used for decision making. By identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of different options, a decision maker can evaluate each option’s potential risks and benefits. For example, a business owner could use SWOT analysis to assess the potential risks and benefits of expanding into a new market.
- Pros and Cons Analysis: Pros and cons analysis lists the advantages and disadvantages of different options. It involves weighing the pros and cons of each option to determine the best course of action. For example, an individual could use a pros and cons analysis to decide whether to take a job offer.
- Six Thinking Hats: The six thinking hats technique is a way to think about a problem from different perspectives. It involves using six different “hats” to consider various aspects of the decision. The hats include white (facts and figures), red (emotions and feelings), black (risks and drawbacks), yellow (benefits and opportunities), green (creativity and new ideas), and blue (overview and control). For example, a team could use the six thinking hats technique to evaluate different options for a marketing campaign.
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Problem Solving and Decision Making
Problem-solving and decision-making are important skills for business and life.
Problem-solving often involves decision-making, and decision making is especially important for management and leadership.
There are processes and techniques to improve decision making and the quality of decisions.
Decision making is more natural to certain personalities, so these people should focus more on improving the quality of their decisions.
People that are less natural decision-makers are often able to make quality assessments, but then need to be more decisive in acting upon the assessments made.
Problem-solving and decision making are closely linked, and each requires creativity in identifying and developing options, for which the brainstorming technique is particularly useful.
See also the free SWOT analysis template and examples , and PEST analysis template , which help decision-making and problem-solving.
SWOT analysis helps assess the strength of a company, a business proposition or idea; PEST analysis helps to assess the potential and suitability of a market.
Good decision making requires a mixture of skills: creative development and identification of options, clarity of judgement, firmness of decision, and effective implementation.
For group problem-solving and decision making, or when a consensus is required, workshops help, within which you can incorporate these tools and processes as appropriate.
Here are some useful methods for effective decision making and problem-solving: First a simple step-by-step process for effective decision making and problem-solving.
And definitely see the ethical decision-making quick guide.
- Define and clarify the issue - does it warrant action? If so, now? Is the matter urgent, important or both? See the Pareto Principle.
- Gather all the facts and understand their causes.
- Think about or brainstorm possible options and solutions (See brainstorming process).
- Consider and compare the 'pros and cons' of each option - consult others if necessary or useful - and for bigger complex decisions where there are several options, create a template that enables measurements according to different strategic factors (see SWOT , PEST , Porter ).
- Select the best option - avoid vagueness and weak compromises in trying to please everyone.
- Explain your decision to those involved and affected, and follow up to ensure proper and effective implementation.
Decision-making maxims will help to reinforce the above decision-making process whether related to problem-solving or not, for example:
"We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down." - Aneurin Bevan
"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." - attributed to Theodore Roosevelt - more maxims on the quotes page.
There is often more than one good answer when you are faced with a complex decision. When you've found the best solution you can find, involve others in making it work, and it probably will.
More useful rules, acronyms and training ideas on the acronyms page .
'Pros and Cons' and 'Weighted' Decision-Making Methods
A simple process for decision making is to compile a 'weighted' score, of a 'pros and cons' list.
For more complex decisions, several options can be assessed against differing significant criteria, or against a single set of important factors. In any case, factors/options can be weighted and scored appropriately.
The 'pros and cons' method can be used especially for two-option problem-solving and decision-making issues where implications need to be understood and a decision has to be made in a measured objective sense.
Using a 'weighted list' scoring method is especially useful in big organisational or business decisions, especially which involve lots of different strategic considerations (as in SWOT and PEST and Porter's Five Forces concept). In such situations, you can assess different options according to a single set of criteria (the most important considerations), or you can allocate weighted/scored criteria differently to each option (examples of templates are below).
Some decisions are a simple matter of whether to make a change or not, such as moving, taking a new job, buying something, selling something, replacing something, etc. Other decisions involve a number of options and are concerned more with how to do something, involving a number of choices. Use the brainstorming process to identify and develop options for decision-making and problem-solving. If involving a group in the process then running a workshop is often a good approach.
- First, you will need a separate sheet for each identified option.
- On each sheet write clearly the option concerned, and then beneath it the headings 'pros' and 'cons' (or 'advantages' and 'disadvantages', or simply 'for' and 'against'). Many decisions simply involve the choice of whether to go ahead or not, to change or not; in these cases, you need only one sheet.
- Then write down as many effects and implications of the particular option that you (and others if appropriate) can think of, placing each in the relevant column.
- If helpful 'weight' each factor, by giving it a score out of three or five points (e.g., 5 being extremely significant, and 1 being of minor significance).
- When you have listed all the points you can think of for the option concerned compare the number or total score of the items/effects/factors between the two columns.
- This will provide a reflection and indication as to the overall attractiveness and benefit of the option concerned. If you have scored each item you will actually be able to arrive at a total score, being the difference between the pros and cons column totals. The bigger the difference between the total pros and total cons then the more attractive the option is.
- If you have a number of options and have completed a pros and cons sheet for each option, compare the attractiveness - points difference between pros and cons - for each option. The biggest positive difference between pros and cons is the most attractive option.
- N.B. If you don't like the answer that the decision-making sheet(s) reflect back to you, it means you haven't included all the cons - especially the emotional ones, or you haven't scored the factors consistently, so re-visit the sheet(s) concerned.
You will find that writing things down in this way will help you to see things more clearly, and become more objective and detached, which will help you to make clearer decisions.
Using a scoring template also allows for the involvement and contribution of other people, far more objectively, controllably and usefully, than by general discussion without a measurement framework.
This first simple example below enables the weighting of the pros and cons of buying a new car to replace an old car.
The methodology is easily adapted for more complex decisions, such as in business strategy and consideration of more complex factors (notably found within other tools such as SWOT and PEST and Porter's Five Forces ).
The actual scores below are examples and are not suggested weightings of how to make such a decision, which must be your own ideas.
Decision-making criteria depend on your own personal situations and preferences. Criteria and weighting will change according to time, situation, etc.
Your own mood and feelings can also affect how you assess things, which is additional justification for the need for a measurable and robust method.
In bigger strategic business decision-making, it is often beneficial to seek input from others as to factors and weighting scores. In such situations, a template offers a way for people to contribute in a managed structured way.
The main template question can be whatever suits your purposes - it can be about timing, where, who, how, and is not necessarily restricted to two columns . The same methodology can be used to compare a series of several options.
For more complex situations, especially which entail many more rows and columns, it's sensible to use a spreadsheet.
Use whatever scoring method makes good sense to you for your situation. The example shows a low score method, but you can score each item up to 10, or 20 or 100, or an 'A/B/C' or three-star scoring method - whatever works best for you.
In the above example, on the basis of the pros and cons and the weighting applied, there seems to be a clear overall quantifiable advantage in the decision to go ahead and buy a new car.
Notice that with this decision-making method it's even possible to include 'intangible' emotional issues in the pros and cons comparison, for example 'it'll be a load off my mind', and 'decisions scare and upset me'.
A decision-making pros and cons list like this helps remove the emotion which blocks clear thinking and decision-making. It enables objectivity and measurement, rather than reacting from instinct, or avoiding the issue altogether. Objective measurement helps in making a confident decision.
The total weighted scores are the main deciding factor rather than the total number of pros and cons, although there is not a scientific 'right' or 'wrong' way to consider the total number of pros and cons compared with the total weighted scores.
If the weighted scores are indicating a decision which makes you feel uncomfortable, then check your weightings, and also check that you've not missed out on any factors on either side of the table.
If the decision makes you feel uncomfortable and this is not reflected in the table, then add it as a factor and give it a score.
Seeking feedback or input from a trusted neutral friend can be helpful in confirming your factors and their scores.
You should be able to cut and paste this template into a text editor or spreadsheet. Add more rows or columns as required.
For more complex decisions, especially strategic/organisational, the sub-headings 'pros' and 'cons' should be replaced by the names of the different options.
Refer to other tools such as SWOT and PEST and Porter's Five Forces as appropriate.
Note: The above methods are similar to - but not the same as - 'Force Field Analysis', an analytical theory developed by psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), originally to assess factors influencing group behaviour.
The Lewin model is typically shown as a simplified diagram, with horizontal arrows alongside each factor pointing to the space between the columns. Explained above is a different and logically developed weighted decision-making method, not Lewin's Force Field Analysis.
Here's a three-option template example:
This approach enables different criteria to be allocated to each option and weighted accordingly.
Here's a three-option template which enables weighting/scoring across a single set of criteria:
Complex Problems and Decisions - Tips
For complex decisions and problems involving more than two possible options, you can use a template with additional columns, in which case each column represents a different option, and the rows enable scoring according to the different weighted strategic considerations.
Or establish a single set of criteria across which to score several different options.
So, in using more than one or two columns you can assess options according to:
- differing weighted criteria for each of the options, or
- a single set of criteria.
Choose the method(s) which offer you the easiest approach, given the types of options available, and whether you are involving other people in the process.
Where a team of people, or different departments, are involved in the decision-making for lots of options/variations within a big complex situation, it can be useful to delegate the formulation of different two-column 'pros and cons' templates to different teams/people, and this can be a powerful aid to subsequent group discussions. This enables options to be eliminated and filtered and a shortlist of fewer options to be established.
In complex situations the wording of the options is important, for example, if considering the best path for one's own career and work development the options might be:
- be employed, working for a big company
- be self-employed, working as a consultant or freelancer from home
- start a business, with premises and staff
A situation like this can be approached by completing three separate pros and cons tables and then comparing the net effects (difference between weighted pros and cons) of each one, or by completing one three-column template and scoring the main considerations across all three options.
Here's an example of a three-option organisational decision:
- develop a range of industrial cleaning products
- develop a range of industrial cleaning services
- develop a network of distributors for industrial cleaning products and services
Criteria for weighting/scoring and thereby comparing the above three strategic options might typically include factors such as:
- investment/costs required
- profitability (gross margin, financial contribution, etc)
- overhead use/demand
- competitive advantage
- ease of market access
- training needs
- speed, etc, etc
In both of the above examples, the scoring criteria can be more precisely and relevantly established with the aid of other tools like SWOT and PEST and Porter's Five Forces .
Also consider that some decisions and challenges are difficult because you don't have the necessary knowledge or experience, in which case you need first to decide if the decision or challenge is actually appropriate and necessary for you at this stage.
If you don't have the necessary knowledge or experience to compile a decision-making template, then you are not in a good position to make the decision, and you need to bring in the necessary knowledge and experience.
Some decisions have to be made when you are not ready, in which case it is all the more important to be as measured as you can be, rather than resort purely to instinct.
Other decisions may seem urgent and necessary, but actually - if you probe and challenge the situation - might not actually be necessary at all.
Do not be forced into a decision if having considered the implications carefully you decide that it's not the best thing to do. The decision to do nothing is often a perfectly good option.
Whatever you do - try to be as objective and measured as you can be, and where it's appropriate or necessary, definitely seek input from others.
Well-prepared decisions are easier to make and implement and generally produce the best results.
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Problem Solving & Decision Making Techniques
You most probably have heard the old cliché “there are no problems, only opportunities.’ This might sound like pie-in-the-sky optimism to anyone stuck in the middle of a difficult puzzle or a stressful people problem. However, by using the proven, logical problem-solving and decision-making system, you indeed can create opportunities from problems. Additionally, the biggest problem-solving mistake is dealing with the symptoms of a problem rather than its “root causes.” Sometimes, even the “experts” don’t find the fundamental reason the problem exists right away. When symptoms are treated, “band-aid” decisions are made. Consequently, old symptoms reappear, or new ones emerge, and the same old problem returns.
By taking the steps of systematic problem-solving and decision-making, you can prevent problems from recurring. These steps include the following:
1 : Problem Recognition 2 : Problem Labeling 3 : Problem-cause analysis 4 : Optional solutions 5 : Decision-making 6 : Action Planning
Firstly, problem-solving and decision-making begin by recognizing that a situation needs resolution. This boils down to listing all hard and soft symptoms relevant to the problem. Even when the troubles are obvious, it is a good idea to start with Step 1. Additionally, no matter how serious or stressful the first encounter with a problem may seem, it is usually only a symptom of the underlying trouble or real problem. Furthermore, symptoms may be trivial, like one minor defect, or they may be serious issues that must be dealt with quickly, such as falling production levels. Regardless, they are often simply just side effects of the real problem that lies beneath the surface.
After completing Step 1, you should have a wealth of data on your problem. It may be confusing, and you still may not know what kind of a problem you have. Furthermore, people may have different interpretations of the same issue. A problem will look different from different vantage points. Those doing the looking may label it with different words, even though they’re talking about the same issue. Whether differences of opinions are about details or major issues, disagreement blocks the necessary teamwork to resolve things. As a result, Step 2 attempts to identify and label both sides of the conflict in a way that everyone can accept. The result of Problem Labeling is a simple agreed-upon statement of the common denominators of the problem. Consequently, you need to identify the central issue that needs resolution, and this should give you a unifying statement of the main problem
Problem-Cause Analysis produces the true problem definition. So why have we taken valuable time with Steps 1 and 2? Because it is extremely difficult to sort through the mental and emotional issues that cloud a problem. Moreover, the previous steps helped create general awareness of what the problem is and isn’t, which further helped sort out the causes, contributing forces, or stimuli that raised the problem in the first place from the effects, the symptoms, and by-products of the causes. As a result, Step 3 looks for the root cause of the problem. The root cause is a controllable, solvable force that explains why the problem exists.
Step 4 is called “Optional Solutions” because the goal is to complete a list of conceivable alternatives. You’re looking for any strategies that will address the root cause and resolve the problem once and for all. Consequently, insisting on a comprehensive list prevents you from rushing off impulsively with the first idea that sounds good. There’s a chance that if you follow the first off-the-cuff proposal, it will be inferior, inadequate, or unbalanced. Furthermore, you’ve come this far by avoiding shortcuts. Therefore, don’t give in to the temptation now. A complete list of alternatives is essential before proceeding to Step 5.
Step 5 allows you to choose one alternative solution as a course of action. You make a value judgment on what to do about the problem. The result you want is a firm joint decision on the chosen optional solution. Consequently, this means selecting one strategy from the list in Step 4 that everyone will respect. The philosophy of Step 5 is analysis and evaluation. Therefore, this means lining your ducks up, weeding out the worst choices, and weighing remaining choices against each other. Moreover, you will consider ranking, prioritizing, and scoring the alternatives to make your choice. The goal is to find the “right” solution using a practical, scientific process.
The best solution ever conceived and agreed-upon won’t solve a problem if it isn’t put into action. Therefore, an action plan outlines who will do what, where, and by when. An action plan organizes tasks which implement the decision in actual practice. Timing, personnel, and other resources must be considered and choreographed into action.
Furthermore, setting performance standards plus a follow-up monitoring mechanism is vital to ensure that the plan is carried through. Always consider Murphy’s Law; “That which can go wrong, will.” Therefore, no matter how well you predict the future, think through the sequence of implementation, or estimate time and resources, your plan will rarely go as conceived. Consequently, it is better to anticipate problems and prepare as best you can. The best action plans include contingency thinking to avoid Murphy’s worst effects.
(By: Peter Frans – Managing Partner Trimitra Consultants)
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- INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
- Decision-Making and Problem Solving
- A - Z List of Interpersonal Skills
- Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment
- Communication Skills
- Emotional Intelligence
- Conflict Resolution and Mediation Skills
- Customer Service Skills
- Team-Working, Groups and Meetings
Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
- Effective Decision Making
- Decision-Making Framework
- Introduction to Problem Solving
Identifying and Structuring Problems
Investigating Ideas and Solutions
Implementing a Solution and Feedback
- Creative Problem-Solving
- Negotiation and Persuasion Skills
- Personal and Romantic Relationship Skills
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The SkillsYouNeed Guide to Interpersonal Skills
Making decisions and solving problems are two key areas in life, whether you are at home or at work. Whatever you’re doing, and wherever you are, you are faced with countless decisions and problems, both small and large, every day.
Many decisions and problems are so small that we may not even notice them. Even small decisions, however, can be overwhelming to some people. They may come to a halt as they consider their dilemma and try to decide what to do.
Small and Large Decisions
In your day-to-day life you're likely to encounter numerous 'small decisions', including, for example:
Tea or coffee?
What shall I have in my sandwich? Or should I have a salad instead today?
What shall I wear today?
Larger decisions may occur less frequently but may include:
Should we repaint the kitchen? If so, what colour?
Should we relocate?
Should I propose to my partner? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with him/her?
These decisions, and others like them, may take considerable time and effort to make.
The relationship between decision-making and problem-solving is complex. Decision-making is perhaps best thought of as a key part of problem-solving: one part of the overall process.
Our approach at Skills You Need is to set out a framework to help guide you through the decision-making process. You won’t always need to use the whole framework, or even use it at all, but you may find it useful if you are a bit ‘stuck’ and need something to help you make a difficult decision.
This page provides information about ways of making a decision, including basing it on logic or emotion (‘gut feeling’). It also explains what can stop you making an effective decision, including too much or too little information, and not really caring about the outcome.
A Decision-Making Framework
This page sets out one possible framework for decision-making.
The framework described is quite extensive, and may seem quite formal. But it is also a helpful process to run through in a briefer form, for smaller problems, as it will help you to make sure that you really do have all the information that you need.
Introduction to Problem-Solving
This page provides a general introduction to the idea of problem-solving. It explores the idea of goals (things that you want to achieve) and barriers (things that may prevent you from achieving your goals), and explains the problem-solving process at a broad level.
The first stage in solving any problem is to identify it, and then break it down into its component parts. Even the biggest, most intractable-seeming problems, can become much more manageable if they are broken down into smaller parts. This page provides some advice about techniques you can use to do so.
Sometimes, the possible options to address your problem are obvious. At other times, you may need to involve others, or think more laterally to find alternatives. This page explains some principles, and some tools and techniques to help you do so.
Having generated solutions, you need to decide which one to take, which is where decision-making meets problem-solving. But once decided, there is another step: to deliver on your decision, and then see if your chosen solution works. This page helps you through this process.
‘Social’ problems are those that we encounter in everyday life, including money trouble, problems with other people, health problems and crime. These problems, like any others, are best solved using a framework to identify the problem, work out the options for addressing it, and then deciding which option to use.
This page provides more information about the key skills needed for practical problem-solving in real life.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills eBooks.
Develop your interpersonal skills with our series of eBooks. Learn about and improve your communication skills, tackle conflict resolution, mediate in difficult situations, and develop your emotional intelligence.
Guiding you through the key skills needed in life
As always at Skills You Need, our approach to these key skills is to provide practical ways to manage the process, and to develop your skills.
Neither problem-solving nor decision-making is an intrinsically difficult process and we hope you will find our pages useful in developing your skills.
Start with: Decision Making Problem Solving
See also: Improving Communication Interpersonal Communication Skills Building Confidence