My Life

Problem-Solving 101

Whether it’s your set of circumstances or with another person, as human beings, we are going to encounter conflict in our lives. There are many problems that we deal with on a daily basis, from figuring out what to do about the homework assignments we forgot, to dealing with drama at school, to being in a fight with our parents. Problems and conflict happen. The question is, how do we deal with them?

In reality, most people don’t have a clear plan on how to deal with conflict and drama. Despite this, Christ is calling us to tackle our problems with Him in mind. So what does this look like? Let’s look at six clear steps in addressing problems and conflicts as they arise.

1. What’s the real problem?

To solve the problem, we need to know about the problem. If you have missed assignments for your math class but haven’t checked what you need to make up, how can you know what to turn in? Before we can take steps to resolve or fix a problem, we need to understand what the problem is. But sometimes even figuring out the right problem to solve can be difficult. With friends and family, it can be hard to know what they are even upset about. In these cases, it’s best to ask questions to get to the root of an issue. The following steps will help in doing that.

2. Listen to the other side.

Regardless of the situation, it’s important to take a step back and listen to the other side. We know from Scripture that Jesus asked so many questions of others. He listened to them, ate with them, and was present with them. In the midst of conflict it would be super easy to give views side right away, but ultimately hearing another’s perspective can help us understand the whole problem. In stopping to listen, you might be surprised to hear how differently someone else views a situation and it might completely change your view. You might also be relieved to hear that the other side has the same concerns you do and wants to solve the problem together. First, listen to understand and not to respond.

The second part of this step is reflecting what the person is saying. This can involve even saying what the person said to you back to them almost verbatim such as so I hear you say [insert their words here]. On the opposite end, imagine a time when someone has reflected what is going on in your life. In hearing someone reflect your words back, you usually feel confident that they are listening and care. Listening first can help you better understand the root of the conflict and prepare you to resolve it better. Reflecting back what is said by the other can help them feel heard and be more open to the discussion.

3. Share your perspective.

This one can be tough. Sometimes in conflict, it’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us. There is an easy trick to sharing your perspective of a given conflict. To avoid getting too angry, upset, or even sarcastic, use I-statements,

I-statements begin with: I feel [insert emotion here] when, [provide a scenario or situation] because [describe your feeling].

These statements can diffuse anger or hostility and create a clear path. When sharing your perspective and using I-statements, it helps to avoid generalizations and put-downs like “you always” or “you never” which can be blaming and make the situation worse. When you want to be heard, use I-statements to help your perspective to be clear and respectful.

4. Brainstorm solutions.

Okay, so you have discussed what the problem is, looked at both sides, now what? Now it’s time for brainstorming solutions to the problem. The critical thing to remember at this stage is to keep the options open. Depending on what it is, you can discuss options, make a list, draw on a whiteboard, whatever you need to do! These ideas don’t have to be perfect but are ways to get you thinking and to explore all possible options. Even if an idea sounds ridiculous, put it on the list! That is what brainstorming is all about.

5. Choose a solution.

You know the problem, you have a list of possible solutions, now it’s time to choose one and try it out. This involves talking with the other person about what is involved from both sides in each possible solution. It might require adjusting, compromising, and maybe a little sacrifice from each person. That’s okay. Talk it out until you both have a solution that works for the both of you. Then, give it a try over the following days and weeks.

6. Evaluate the solution.

This is the step most people forget. Often we can pick a solution and it might not work. After a day, week, or month things are right back to where they were. It is important to check in about the solution that is chosen and to ask questions like “How has this helped? Have we seen a change? Should we try something different?” If the solution didn’t work, that is okay, and it means it’s time to go back to the list and try something new.

These six problem-solving steps are a great start to healthy and fruitful conflict resolution. A lot of people ask, “But what if the other person doesn’t follow the same rules?” which is a great question. Part of solving any problem might be first laying down the ground rules and even talking about these steps with them. If someone is too angry or hurt to take these steps, then maybe they need a little more time to talk about possible solutions.

God wants to help heal you and any problems you have in your life. He also wants you to take healthy and fruitful action on them as well. Take to prayer these six steps and how God might be nudging you to engage in some ‘Problem Solving 101’ in your life. As humans, we will encounter conflict and problems that need to be addressed. Don’t be afraid to invoke the Holy Spirit help you approach difficult areas of your life with faith, hope, and love.

About the Author

Adam Cross

I am a part-time therapist and a full-time Youth Minister in SoCal. I am fascinated by the intersection of psychology and theology, and I provide therapy over videochat for people looking for a Catholic therapist. I love reading Venerable Fulton Sheen, C.S. Lewis, and love the band the Oh Hello's!

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