Problem Solving (text version)

Problem-solving can be an efficient and rewarding process, especially if you are organized and mindful of critical steps and strategies. Remember, too, to assume the attributes of a good critical thinker. If you are curious, reflective, knowledge-seeking, open to change, probing, organized, and ethical, your challenge or problem will be less of a hurdle, and you’ll be in a good position to find intelligent solutions.

1 Define the problem
  • Identify the problem
  • Provide as many supporting details as possible
  • Provide examples
  • Organize the information logically
2 Identify available solutions
  • Use logic to identify your most important goals
  • Identify implications and consequences
  • Identify facts
  • Compare and contrast possible solutions
3 Select your solution
  • Use gathered facts and relevant evidence
  • Support and defend solutions considered valid
  • Defend your solution

Problem solving in relationships can be especially tricky. Take a look at this short video:

While this video is a lighthearted take on relationship problems, it is true that problem solving in any relationship can be difficult, whether that relationship is between two people in an intimate relationship, or between two roommates, or between two friends.

Let’s look back at a one of the problems listed at the beginning of this page. How might you solve it?

Anika’s roommate, Eli, was upset and he said some unkind words to her, which put a crimp in the relationship. Anika wants to try to see through the angry behaviors to determine how she might best support Eli and help bring the relationship back to a comfortable spot. How should Anika proceed?

First, let’s help Anika identify the problem. How would you describe the problem? Here are some options:

  • Eli behaved inappropriately
  • Anika is being too sensitive
  • Anika and Eli are probably not a great fit as roommates

The best problem description is the first one – Eli behaved inappropriately. All of us at some point get upset and say things at times that hurt others. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, but it also doesn’t mean that Anika and Eli are unable to solve the problem and continue their relationship.

Now that Anika has identified the problem – Eli behaved inappropriately – what are some possible solutions? Here are some options:

  • Anika should ignore Eli – eventually he’ll figure out that he did something wrong and apologize.
  • Anika should ask Eli to sit down and discuss the problem right away.
  • Anika should give Eli a little space and then talk to him.

Ignoring Eli is probably not a good solution. While it’s perfectly natural for Anika to be angry about Eli’s unkind words and want to ignore him, that doesn’t address the problem. The other two options are better solutions.

Think through the pros and cons of each of the two possible solutions. Which one do you think is best?

It’s a great idea for Anika to sit down and discuss the problem with Eli – this is a much healthier option than ignoring the problem. Whether or not she talks to Eli right away is likely a judgement call depending on the situation. If Eli is really upset, it might be better to wait a little while until he calms down and can have a more productive discussion.

Anika observed that Eli seemed pretty upset, and so decided to wait a few hours before talking with him. When she did talk to him later that afternoon, Anika told Eli that she valued his friendship, but that his unkind words were hurtful to her.

Eli explained that he has been getting continually more upset since he got a poor grade on his French mid-term. He needs to pass the class for his major, and has been stressed about the situation. He apologized for his earlier words, and Anika forgave him.

By using problem-solving skills, Anika was able to handle this situation in an effective way that resulted in a relatively quick resolution rather than letting it escalate into a more difficult situation that would be harder to resolve and would likely result in more pain on both sides of the relationship.

  1. "Student Success-Thinking Critically In Class and Online." Critical Thinking Gateway. St Petersburg College, n.d. Web. 16 Feb 2016.