Every relationship has problems. They don’t have to define the relationship. Most problems have solutions. But it is each person’s approach to those problems in the relationship that influences whether the issues cause a major rift. When you, are able to define the problem clearly, face it head-on, take responsibility for your part and work with the other person in the relationship on finding realistic solutions, you are likely to come to a resolution.

Problem-solving is critical to every part of our lives, both personal and professional. Having good problem-solving abilities makes us feel competent and hopeful and strengthens our relationships.

The Path to Effective Problem-Solving

  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.

  3. Define the problem thoroughly, including all surface and underlying emotional issues. A problem defined in a vague or incorrect way cannot be solved. Define the problem in such a way that it can be solved, including:
    • Situation: Who, what, where and when?
    • Reactions: Thoughts, triggers, emotions, way 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.

  4. 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.
    • Use brainstorming. Think up and write down many alternatives; don’t worry if they seem good, reasonable or far-fetched.
    • 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?”
    • 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.

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

Once new ways of thinking and responding have been successfully rehearsed, you will be more confident in 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.

This post is an excerpt from the book Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love. You can purchase the book here.