Coming Back Stronger: Solving Problems Effectively Together

The gradual lifting of restrictions may well bring new concerns to your family, household and/or workplace as you grapple with the logistics and become clearer of, and closer to, what might be a new and potentially unwanted reality. New divisions may also become apparent as people return to life to differing degrees and the ‘we are in this together’ mind-set subsides. This article, based on Peterson’s work on family functioning (2009), outlines how we might best consider and effectively solve problems together to everyone’s advantage.

Why We Need To Understand Problems Together.
How we share and solve problems with those we live and need to work with co-operatively during this time can greatly influence all of; our ability to cope and function properly, our psychological wellbeing, and the attainment of the best individual and collective outcomes. Further, if you have children, teaching and engaging them with problem solving skills will promote their resilience.

Typically the problems that we consider and aim to solve relate to how we are going to get a task done or a goal achieved. These instrumental problems might currently include; how are we going to get enough money to pay the rent, how are we going to socially distance once we return to work, and how are we going to work if the children are staggered in their return to school. As a society, however, we are increasingly realising that problems may also be affective, that is problems are, or are in part, to do with our feelings and emotions. For example, I am worried that the quality of my work will be affected by social distancing, or I am concerned that social distancing will be difficult at my child’s school. With this in mind, it becomes easier to appreciate that individuals may well experience problems and potential solutions differently. Also, if we consider that individuals who believe their feelings are not heard or addressed are unlikely to accept or act upon a given solution, it helps us understand why problems often remain unresolved. If therefore, others are affected by a problem and/or its potential outcomes, or are required to act to solve a problem, it is important that the problem is considered from everyone’s instrumental and affective experience to ensure that it is effectively understood and resolved.

How To Solve Problems Together.
Taking the time to systematically follow the below six-step process (Peterson, 2009) will promote everyone’s engagement with the problem-solving process and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for all. If considering this within a work setting, it can sometimes be useful to have a neutral facilitator to help reduce hierarchical or historical communication issues. Better still, work to develop an environment of psychological safety as outlined in my previous article ‘Coming Back Stronger: Communicating Effectively With Each Other.’

1. Problem Identification and Agreement. A crucial, but often difficult, first step is to clearly define and agree upon the nature of the problem. Each individual should get the chance to explain how they experience/what they feel about the problem to determine its instrumental AND affective components. A ‘no blame and repercussions’ atmosphere and ensuring that everyone feels heard is crucial here.
2. Creating Options and Alternatives. Involve everyone in brainstorming options for considering the instrumental and affective parts of the problem. Ideas might seek to help with all or a part of the problem, and could include potential individual and collective contributions. Ensure that everyone’s feelings are addressed and that everyone’s strengths are recognised; resist evaluating options. Aim to get a good number of options on the table.
3. Evaluate Options. The goal here is to find a solution(s) that everyone will consider. Enable each member to give their opinion of each option and eliminate those options that anyone is not prepared to try. Then consider whether you have access to the required resources to enable the remaining options.
4. Choose a Solution. Decide together which solution(s) everyone can be most committed to and develop an action plan of what is to be done, who is going to do it, and by when. Write it down to make sure that everyone understands and accepts their part. Reinforce how everyone’s part, however big or small, is an important and valued part of enabling a successful outcome for all. Decide how and by whom the process is to be monitored – this could be a good opportunity to allow someone to step up and take responsibility.
5. Monitoring the Solution. This step is important to ensure that everyone is reminded of their role, encouraged and supported as required, and motivated by any progress made.
6. Evaluate. Finally, the action plan should be reviewed together in light of whether the problem has been solved. This enables adjustments to be made if required, and everyone to learn from the process for both current and future times.

I hope this article helps you, your family and/or colleagues to effectively solve problems and to move forward together with greater confidence as you all face any challenges ahead.

Written by Dr Caroline Marlow, Chartered Psychologist and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd. This article was published as a blog by the Football Medicine and Performance Association (May 2019).

Peterson, R. (2009). Families First: Keys to Successful Family Functioning Problem-solving. Virginia Cooperative Extension, 350-091, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.

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L&M’s Other Covid 19 ‘Stay at Home’ and ‘Coming Back Stronger’ Related Articles
Is It OK To …? Answering the New Questions that Affect Our Psychological Wellbeing.
The Power of Belief: How to Promote Each other’s Mental Health, Coping and Resilience During Covid-19 ‘Stay at Home’
Living With Others: How to Look After Everyone’s Mental Health During Covid-19 Stay at Home
Coming Back Stronger: Communicating Effectively With Each Other.

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