Problem-solving is critical to every part of our lives, both personal and professional. It is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action. Strong problem-solving skills empower us to face a dilemma head-on, use already-familiar techniques to reach a desired outcome and solve the problem with the least difficulty possible in the most effective way.

In the family setting, having good problem-solving abilities makes us feel competent and hopeful and strengthens our relationships. On the other hand, a lack of problem-solving skills can result in increased conflict and stress within the family.

In this article, we introduce you to a problem-solving method that – with a positive mindset and a willingness to take responsibility – you can implement to effectively address issues that are a natural and inevitable part of life.

The Method

Here is a sequence of steps that can put you on the right path to solving a problem:

1. Set the tone. Creating the right atmosphere is crucial to get off on the right foot. For personal problems, prepare and relax your mind and body; make sure it’s the best time and place. If this is a relationship problem, state positive intentions: “I appreciate your willingness to work this out with me.”

2. Identify the problem. Recognizing a problem early in its development, before it becomes extreme and overwhelming, makes it more manageable. Your self-awareness skills — being in touch with your thoughts, feelings and behaviors — enable you to recognize the existence of a problem before things get out of hand.

Define the problem thoroughly, considering both surface and underlying emotional issues as you do this.  A problem defined in a vague or incorrect way cannot be solved. Define the problem in such a way that it can be solved, by addressing the following:

  • Situation – Who, what, where and when?
  • Reactions – Thoughts, triggers, emotions, and ways of perceiving problems.
  • How-to statement – Place “how to” in front of your desire or goal. For example, “How to get my child to respect me.” Remember: you cannot control the behavior of others. The question is, “How can I increase my positive impact on my child to increase respect?”

If you are unable to solve your problem, maybe you are trying to solve the wrong problem. Perhaps you have not identified the real problem.

3. Generate alternative solutions. Be creative; don’t just rely on solutions you have tried before. Keep an open mind and keep the problem you have identified in mind. Solutions should address the current problem and also prevent the problem from occurring in the future. There are three methods for generating alternatives:

  1. Use brainstorming. Think up and write down many alternatives; don’t worry if they seem good, reasonable or far-fetched.
  2. Change your frame of reference. See the problem from someone else’s perspective. You may find a new solution by viewing the problem from a fresh vantage point. Ask yourself, “What would so-and-so do in this situation?”
  3. Adapt a solution from a similar problem. Remember and use your previous successful solutions. Effective past solutions can sometimes be applied to your present situation.

4. Evaluate your alternatives. Choose the best solution based on the following criteria:

  • Is this something I can realistically do; is it within my power and ability?
  • Does it coincide with my needs, style and values?
  • Is it sensitive to others?
  • What are the costs and benefits of the alternative you choose?

Make a list of the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, of each alternative. Assign the grade to each, A to F. Pick the alternative with the highest grade, keeping in mind the criteria listed. If the solution involves communication and negotiation between two parties, the solution should:

  • be acceptable to both parties
  • state specifically what each person will do and how and when it will occur
  • be balanced with each person contributing to the resolution.

5. Implement and evaluate results. If possible, it is always a good idea to rehearse and practice your solutions first. For example, you can role-play what you plan to say or do to practice, receive feedback and get comfortable with new behaviors. Once new ways of thinking and responding have been successfully rehearsed, you will be more confident in the real-life situations.

When verifying the results of your solution, ask yourself if you carried it out according to plan. Did it achieve the desired effect? Did it solve your problem? If yes, congratulate yourself. If no, either you did not carry out the solution effectively, or you have not identified the problem correctly.

Some issues that come up in families are difficult to address even if you have a positive mindset and are following a problem-solving sequence. We are here to help you work through the more challenging issues in a positive and therapeutic environment. Contact Evergreen Psychotherapy Center for more information about how we can provide support.