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Problem Solving

Chapter 3: Problem Solving

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What are some barriers to productive problem solving?
The barriers to productive problem solving include:
  • A “Yes … But” attitude
  • Intellectual defensiveness closed to new ideas
  • Fear of being perceived as being incompetent
  • Fear of one's ideas being unaccepted
  • Inability to be objective about problem
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Inability to be creative, imaginative or off the wall in developing alternative solutions
  • Being inflexible or too serious to have fun while problem solving
  • Not tuning into the ”Little Child Within
  • Being so chronically immersed or emotionally stuck in problems that no feelings or emotions can be elicited
  • Believing that one's emotions and feelings about a problem are wrong and should be discounted in problem solving
  • Resenment about having to solve the problem; blaming others for causing the problem; no desire to own up to the problem yourself
  • Believing that problems are the concerns of others, not me; therefore, why waste my time in trying to solving them
  • Mental and/or physical fatigue from trying to cope with problems and finding no fruitful solutions; burnout
  • Feeling so stressed, anxious, or tense in the face of a problem that your body systems shut down
  • Getting so angry about the problem that all energy and attention is drawn to the anger rather than to the problem
  • Feeling sorry for oneself so much that the self-pity overwhelms and obstructs all creative thinking on the matter
  • Getting so down or depressed about the problem that it is impossible to come up long enough to deal with the problem
  • Denial that the problem exists
  • Bargaining in dealing with the problem; e.g.: agreeing to perform certain steps only as long as the solution to the problem benefits you

What ten things are needed for productive problem solving?

  1. A clear description of the problem.
  2. A description of the limiting (or negative) factors involved in the problem.
  3. A description of the constructive (or positive) factors involved in the problem.
  4. A clear delineation of the ownership of the problem. Whose problem is it: mine, yours, the other guy's, my boss', my spouse's, my child's, my parents', my teacher's?
  5. A clear description of the scope of the problem: How extensive a problem is it? How long has this problem existed? How many people are affected? What else is affected by this problem?
  6. A clear description of the consequences if the problem were not solved: What is the possible impact on my family, job, marriage, school performance, life in this community, etc., if this problem isn't solved? What is the worst possible thing that could happen if this problem isn't solved?
  7. A list of brainstormed solutions to the problem, with each alternative analyzed as to its reality, its benefits, and the consequences for following each one.
  8. A system of ranking each solution to finalize the decision-making process. A rating system for analyzing each solution is developed, e.g., 100% chance of success, 75% chance of success, 50% chance of success.
  9. A clear description of myself as a problem solver when it comes to this problem. Am I procrastinating? Am I avoiding the problem? Am I in denial? Am I shutting down or blocking my creativity on this problem? Am I ignoring it, hoping it will go away? Am I using magical and/or fantasy thinking in addressing the problem?
  10. Determination to follow through on the solution decided upon jointly. This involves full motivation to take the risk and pursue the solution to its fullest.

Problem-solving model diagram:

A different way at looking at productive problem solving

Five dimensional thinking is a way of looking at a problem from five different dimensions:

  1. What is the size or extent of the problem?
  2. How would realty be affected if the problem was left unattended or unsolved?
  3. How are you functioning in handling the problem solving process?
  4. What have your five senses to tell about the problem, i.e., what you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste?
  5. What does the world of reality look like from within the problem?
Rules for Brainstorming when problem solving:
When brainstorming solutions to the problem, follow these rules:
  1. Express all ideas.
  2. Deem no idea too wild to be considered.
  3. Quantity is important; every idea that comes to mind should be included.
  4. Getting together with others to brainstorm is desirable.
  5. Criticism or negative evaluation regarding any idea is forbidden until brainstorming is completed.


Rules for ranking alternative solutions to problems

When ranking alternatives - rate each alternative on

  • possible consequences
  • then probability of success.


Rules for listing Alternatives

  • must be stated in behavioral terms
  • must be understood as behavioral actions 


Rules for listing Possible Consequences

Consequences must be listed as either

  • Positive
  • Negative


Rules for listing Probability of Success 

Probability of Success must be expressed in percentages:

  • 100% probability of Success
  • 75% probability of Success
  • 50% probablity of Success
  • Less than 50% probability of success