Problem Solving Strategies

Problem solving strategies are a key element in stress management. Stress is actually our reaction to something, rather than something that happens to us. Being able to anticipate, identify, prioritize and handle problems quickly and efficiently can definitely result in a calmer reaction to the world around us.

Strong basic life skills can provide a solid foundation for developing efficient problem solving strategies. Personal strengths such as a healthy self-esteem can increase the confidence we have in ourselves to make good decisions. Basic communication skills can help us interact better with others in terms of solving the problem and/or understanding the effects of the decision. And project skills such as organization can help to sort details or aspects of a problem in terms of similarity and importance.


Problem Solving Strategies as an Individual

Goal-setting can help identify potential problems. If we have a plan for where we want to go and what we want to accomplish, it becomes easier to anticipate problems. Setting goals will not eliminate all problems, but can lessen the number of problems that are a total surprise.

Self-control, understanding that we can take more control over our actions, reactions and emotions, can also reduce the stress often associated with solving problems.


Problem Solving Strategies at Work and Home

In addition to personal strengths, problem solving strategies at home and work have to include strong relationship skills. Being assertive, along with the ability to handle conflict effectively and set appropriate boundaries are very important. In some cases, these skills can eliminate potential problems. In others, they can make solving a problem much easier.


Problem Solving Steps:

Once a problem is identified, the following steps can be helpful in resolving it as quickly and efficiently as possible:

1. Evaluate the situation.

How important is this problem? How long do I have to make a decision? How much responsibility do I have for solving this problem? Are other people involved? Can they help in making the decision? How much control do I have over the situation?

Evaluation is important because rushing into a solution without all the facts can result in a far worse problem. Even in an emergency, some thought is necessary.

2. Explore all options.

Are there different ways this problem be solved? What are they? What would happen if I do nothing? Can I – or should I – let someone else make this decision?

If the problem requires a lot of thought, writing down the details may help sort them out. If others are involved it is a good idea to bring them into this process. Different perspectives usually lead to a better solution. And people are generally more supportive of a decision they help to create.

3. Consider all consequences.

What would happen if I pick this solution? Or that solution? What would – or could - be good? What would – or could – be bad?

Every option generally has potentially good (positive) and bad (negative) consequences. Identifying as many as possible up front can lessen the chance that this decision with result in another or a greater problem in the future.

4. Select the best option.

Which option has the greatest number of good (positive) consequences and the least number of bad (negative) consequences?

After careful consideration, choose the best option as the solution to the problem.

5. Don’t second-guess the decision.

Maybe I should have done this? Maybe I could have done that? Maybe it would have been better to do something else?

“Should have,” “could have” and “would have” are a waste of time. If you feel you have spent enough time and effort on solving the problem, move on. (Thinking about a problem too long can sometimes be as bad as rushing into a decision.) Trust that you have made the best decision that you could have made at the time.

No one is perfect and no one can predict the future. If it does not turn out to be the perfect decision, use these same steps to adjust it. Knowledge gained in examining the original problem should be helpful in solving a future variation.