GOOD problem-solving skills and the ability to make effective decisions are the key to effective career management.

Problem solving is not just about how intelligent you are or the amount of knowledge that you have. It is about your ability to think straight and have the right perspective on a problem that you need to tackle.

To be an effective problem-solver, the first thing you should do is try to classify the problems that you are facing.

There are basically four types of problems, and each requires a unique approach to tackle and overcome. Let’s review each of them.


This type of problem involves a question that needs an answer. Sometimes it is difficult to find the answer as you may not have access to all the relevant data and facts to make an informed decision. An example: Should the government help people who are retrenched?

Obviously this question begs further data, such as how many people have been retrenched? Is it a problem that the government should handle? Why and how should the government help them?

A question-based problem usually involves a long-term plan of action which requires you to search for more information and data to help you solve it. It also gives you an opportunity to think about the ideal state that you desire.


This type of problem is based on a situation that presents you with a dilemma. For example, your boss has asked you to work through the weekend to make progress on a very important project for the company. However, you have promised to take your family out for dinner to celebrate your spouse’s birthday.

You now have a “situation” here. The question that you need to ask is, how are you going to deal with the dilemma?

You have to decide what is more important. Having done this, you need to convey your decision to either your boss or your wife. Situation-based problems require you to make choice. In doing so, you need to weigh the consequences of your decision and, as the saying goes, try to choose “the lesser of the two evils”.


These problems require you to convince other people to your point of view. For example, your colleagues are constantly late for the department meeting you are in charge of organising and chairing. You need to convince your colleagues to be on time.

Such a problem must be handled with sensitivity, as you are not their boss and cannot order them to be on time.

You have to engage them in order to make them see that it is in everyone’s interest when meetings start and end on time.


The last category of problems comprises those that have a logical solution. For example, the photocopier has broken down. The obvious solution is that it needs to be fixed. From there, you need to further refine the solution, which can be either a short-term, mid-term or long-term one.

For the short term, because you urgently need to photocopy a large amount of material, the solution may be to outsource the job. As a mid-term remedy, you may want to get the photocopier repaired.

However, as the machine is already a few years old, repairing it will not guarantee that it won’t break down again. Your long-term solution may be to buy a new photocopier.

Becoming a good problem-solver and a rational decision maker go hand in hand.

It is easier to approach a problem with a cool head after you have classified what it is and are in a better position to think of the right strategy to tackle it.