Skills to Pay the BillsProblem Solving and Critical ThinkingEveryone experiences problems from time to time. Some of our problems are big and complicated, whileothers may be more easily solved. There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job.Whether in an office or on a construction site, experiencing difficulties with the tasks at hand or with coworkers, the workplace presents ongoing challenges on a daily basis. Whether these problems are large orsmall, they need to be dealt with constructively and fairly. Having the necessary skills to identify solutions toproblems is one of the skills that employers look for in employees.Problem solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to useEmployers say they need a workforceknowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. Thisfully equipped with skills beyond thedoesn’t mean you need to have an immediate answer, it meansbasics of reading, writing, and arithmeticyou have to be able to think on your feet, assess problems andfind solutions. The ability to develop a well thought out solutionto grow their businesses. These skillsinclude critical thinking and problemsolving, according to a 2010 Criticalwithin a reasonable time frame, however, is a skill thatSkills Survey by the Americanemployers value greatly.Management Association and others.Employers want employees who can work through problems on their own or as an effective member of ateam. Ideal employees can think critically and creatively, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment,and make decisions. As a new employee, you may question why an organization follows certain steps tocomplete a task. It may seem to you that one of the steps could be eliminated saving time, effort, andmoney. But you may be hesitant to voice your opinion. Don’t be; employers are usually appreciative whennew employees are able to offer insight and fresh perspective into better and more efficient ways of doingthings. It is important to remember, however, that as someone new to the organization, you may not alwayshave the full picture, and thus there may be factors you are unaware of that dictate that things be done in aparticular way. Another important thing to remember is that when you are tasked with solving a problem, youdon’t always need to answer immediately.The activities in this section focus on learning how to solve problems in a variety of ways in the workplace.Participants will hear about how to properly tell the difference among criticism, praise, and feedback andreacting appropriately. The section will also review strategies for making ethical decisions, solving problemson a team with others, and learning how to take into account others’ perceptions when assessing actions orstatements in the workplace.A note to facilitators: Building self-determination skills, such as goal setting, decision-making, selfadvocacy, and problem solving should be included in career planning for all youth. Youth with disabilitiesand/or other (perceived) barriers to employment and/or disconnected youth will tend to have a resiliencynot always experienced by their same aged peers – and not always easily seen or understood by themselvesor by adults. You are encouraged to use the activities in this section to help young people explore how theobstacles they (or those they know) may face in life can pose an opportunity for developing anddemonstrating maturity, responsibility, and wisdom. Providing young people with safe opportunities toexplore how their personal resiliency can be used to develop enhanced problem solving and conflictresolutions skills is a opportunity many adults may shy away from, but one that may ultimately be a gift.98

Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success21. Praise, Criticism, or FeedbackJUST THE FACTS: In a work setting, we give and receive many different types of information. Thepurpose of this activity is to help participants determine the differences between criticism, praise, andfeedback – not only how to offer it, but how to receive it as well.Time20 minutesMaterials One set of “Praise Criticism Feedback” cards for each group. Alternatively, youmight choose to hang three pieces of chart paper – each with one of the words on it.Slips of paper could be made with the statements below.DirectionsDiscuss the difference between praise, criticism, and feedback and ask participants forexamples of each. Praise: an expression of approval Criticism: an expression of disapproval based on perceived mistakes or faults Feedback: information about a person’s performance of a task – used primarily as abasis for improvementDivide the group into pairs of two. Read the following statements aloud – one at a time. Itis suggested that the facilitator use different voice tones to truly help participantsdifferentiate the intended meaning of each sentence (which, by the way, can certainlyvary). After each statement, give each pair 10 seconds to decide whether the statement iscriticism, praise, or feedback. Someone from each team should hold up the card thatrepresents a collective decision. If chart paper and sentence strips were used, participantscould move around the room to match each statement to what they believe to be thecorrect match.1. Mr. Jones told me how much he appreciated your thank you note after the jobinterview. He thought it was a great personal touch.2. Your desk is such a mess. Are you sure you are not trying to grow your own paper?3. I noticed that you’ve been coming in late the last couple of days.4. How many times do I have to tell you how to file these documents?5. You look great today.6. It would work better for me if I could explain my version of the story out loud beforeyou ask questions.99

Skills to Pay the Bills7. You’ve improved a lot this week.8. I found it difficult to evaluate this resume because it was messy.9. I liked it much better when we got to choose the projects instead of being assigned to one.With the larger group, discuss the different ways people may react or respond differentlyto praise, criticism, and feedback. It is inevitable that we will all receive criticism at somepoint on the job, and the way in which we respond can impact our own attitude and theattitudes of those with whom we work. Discuss with the group how they, personally,respond differently to praise vs. feedback vs. criticism.ConclusionTake the opportunity to rephrase the way in which any of the above statements weremade. How might rephrasing get a different response or reaction? If you had to make arule for how you would like to receive feedback and criticism, what would that rule be?Journaling ActivityHow does it make you feel when others criticize the work you do? Are you able to respondto feedback differently? Think about a time when you criticized someone else. Whathappened? How did that situation ultimately make you feel?Extension ActivityOften times, the inability to give and/or receive criticism and feedback might causeconflict in the workplace. Reach out to the National Institute for Advanced ConflictResolution ( to find local, no-cost trainingopportunities or workshops for participants. You might also try your state or county’smediation center (often connected to juvenile services) to see what programs are offered.100

Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace SuccessPRAISECRITICISMFEEDBACK101

Skills to Pay the Bills22. Workplace EthicsJUST THE FACTS: We all have our own set of values or standards of behavior that we operate by on adaily basis. However, we may not always feel we can apply these same principles or standards while atwork. The purpose of this lesson is to help participants learn some of the steps necessary to makeethical decisions on the job.Time30 minutesMaterials Activity 22 – one copy for each participant (or group). These materials were adaptedfrom Lesson Planet: Tools For Success: A Study in Employer/Personnel Issues, Ethics,and Professional Behavior (Alabama Learning Exchange)DirectionsAsk participants the following questions – and discuss answers with the group: How do youmake decisions? Is decision-making a skill that was taught to you? Do you have personalrules for decision-making? If you have rules, do these rules change if you are makingdecisions at home, at school, with friends, or at work?Now, let’s discuss ethics. What are ethics? [Possible answer to be discussed: a set of(often unspoken – and generally understood) moral principles relating to a specified group,field, or form of conduct; a group of moral principles, standards of behavior, or set ofvalues regarding proper conduct in the workplace].Ethics on the job often deal with a code of conduct or a set of principles for BOTH theemployer and the employee. Ask for and offer some examples of workplace ethics fromboth the EMPLOYER and the EMPLOYEE. For example:A list of work ethics for an employer or a company might be:102 To provide a safe work environment for staff and employees To treat employees with dignity and respect To provide a fair wage for the services rendered To handle all business transactions with integrity and honesty

Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace SuccessA list of work ethics for an employee might include: To show up on time To tend to company business for the whole time while at work To treat the company’s resources, equipment, and products with care To give respect to the company; that means honesty and integrityAsk the group what types of ethical issues might come up at work?Choose one of the scenarios in Activity 22 for group discussion (be sure to read theintroduction first). Read the scenario aloud (and have copies for those who would like toread it as well). With the group, walk through a basic process for ethical decision-making.Four-Step Process for Making Ethical Decisions at Work:1. Define the problem (or ethical situation).2. List the facts that appear to be most significant to the decision (and consider who isaffected).3. List two or three possible solutions (and how these solutions could impact each person).4. Decide on a plan of action.Divide the group into four smaller groups (and have each group choose one of theremaining scenarios). Each group should take no more than 10 minutes to read, discuss,and have a plan in place for discussion.ConclusionDo you think these situations really happen on the job – in real life? Share how thedecision-making process worked for each group. Were these easy problems to solve?Journaling ActivityWhen it comes to decision-making, there are some people who like to make decisions bythemselves, while others would like to talk things through with someone else. Which typeof person are you? Give an example or two. What are some of the pros and cons associatedwith each type of decision-maker?Extension ActivityHave the group create additional “case studies” to share with each other for problemsolving practice. Participants might ask an adult they know to offer a “real life” exampleof an ethical dilemma they have faced. These should be shared with the group.You might also consider expanding the discussion to include more examples of sexualharassment on the job. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon issue for teens to bedealing with on the job.103

Skills to Pay the BillsActivity 22. Workplace Ethics: Case StudiesFor each of the following case studies, assume you are employed by a large computer company, withapproximately 1,000 employees. The company is located in your town. Read each case study andfollow the four steps for making ethical decisions. You will be discussing your decision-making process(and your ultimate decision) with the group.Case 1: LaKeisha is an administrative assistant in the Human Resources Department. Her good friendMichael is applying for a job with the company and has agreed to be a reference for him. Michael asksfor advice on preparing for the interview. LaKeisha has the actual interview questions asked of allapplicants and considers making him a copy of the list so he can prepare.Case 2: Emily works in the Quality Control Department. Once a year, her supervisor gives away thecompany’s used computers to the local elementary school. The company does not keep records ofthese computer donations. Emily really needs a computer. Her supervisor asks her to deliver 12computers to the school.Case 3: Marvin is an assistant in the Building Services Department. He has just received a new workcomputer and is excited to try it out. His supervisor has a strict policy about computer usage (forbusiness purposes only), but Marvin wants to learn the email software. He figures one good way to dothis is to send emails to his friends and relatives until he gets the hang of it. He has finished all of hiswork for the day and has 30 minutes left until his shift is over. His supervisor left early.Case 4: Jennie was recently hired to work as a receptionist for the front lobby. As receptionist, she isresponsible for making copies for the people in her office. Her son, Jason, comes in and needs somecopies for a school project. He brought his own paper and needs 300 copies for his class. If he doesn’tbring the copies with him, he will fail the project. The company copier does not require a security key,nor do they keep track of copies made by departments.Case 5: Nonye works in the Customer Service Support Department and spends a lot of his dayresponding to email. One day he got a message from an email address he didn’t recognize. It said,“I’d like to get to know you better, outside of work.” Nonye had no idea who sent it, so he deleted it.A few days later, he received another message from the same source. Nonye ignored the messageagain, thinking they would stop. He mentioned these emails to one of his co-workers, who responded,“You’re lucky to have a fan.” The messages continue to come every few days and he’s feeling prettyweirded out.104

Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace SuccessActivity 22. Continued - Steps to

explore how their personal resiliency can be used to develop enhanced problem solving and conflict resolutions skills is a opportunity many adults may shy away from, but one that may ultimately be a gift. Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success 99. 21. Praise, Criticism, or Feedback. JUST THE FACTS: In a work setting, we give and receive many different types of information. The purpose of .