Problem Solving Skills

Every couple, family, and group has problems to solve at one time or another. Whether it is figuring out how to save more money for a down payment for a house or how to spend more time together on weekends and still have time for individual interests, there is never a shortage of things that need solving. Sometimes these problems are easy to deal with and are solved quickly. At other times, however, conflict arises because people disagree on how the problem should be solved. Having a problem-solving process to rely on can help at times like these.

In his classic book Leader Effectiveness Training, Dr. Thomas Gordon outlines a process that can be applied to any problem situation. The following steps are adapted from the process described by Gordon.
1. Describe the problem. Make it as specific as possible, and be sure that everyone in the group agrees that this is the problem. It is a good idea to write it down for everyone to see, just to make sure everyone involved is on the same wavelength.
2. Brainstorm a list of solutions. Brainstorming is a technique that people use to generate as many solutions as possible in a short time. The goal of this step is to create a long list of solutions. Write them all down without criticizing, agreeing, or in any way evaluating them. That will come later in the process.
3. Discuss the pros and cons of each solution. Allow each person in the group time to express his or her opinions. Every membershould be allowed equal time and equal respect.
4. Eliminate solutions that are not workable. You will decide this as a group. You can give each member the opportunity to eliminate one item, if you want.
5. Choose the best solution.
6. Agree on a plan to implement the solution. Write it down.
7. Set a date to follow up and review progress.
8. Carry out the solution.
9. Review the results on the specified follow-up date. Decide whether the problem is solved.
10. If necessary, start over. If the solution has not been successful, return to Step 1 and begin a new problem-solving process.

Any kind of group process works best when people listen carefully to one another. The key skills to develop are asking open-ended questions, acknowledging others’ opinions and contributions, and using conflict resolution skills such as active listening and I-messages. These are explained in other handouts listed in the box.


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