Problem-Solving Framework as a Basis for Consultation & Collaboration

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will define and look at a problem-solving framework, and discuss how this can help create a foundation on which to base consultation and collaboration for the goal of solving problems.

Everybody Hurts

You could ask a million people if they have ever had a problem of some kind and, most likely, all one million would answer, ''Yes!'' No matter what kind or how big or small, no matter what area of life it might affect or how easily it might be solved, problems are universal to the human experience. Problem-solving skills can reduce the impact of these inevitable situations and help prevent or diffuse a crisis. These skills will also help when collaborating with others in a team or in a group. In addition, your problem-solving skills can benefit others who may need assistance with their own problem-solving efforts.

The Nature of Problems

A problem is an unwanted conflict or barrier that impedes the ability to meet a need. Problems can be logistical and involve structural, infrastructural, planning or transportation situations. Problems can be interpersonal involving interactions with friends, family or associates. Problems can be professional when they deal with workplace situations or business negotiations. Social problems are usually related to major societal institutions or operate on a scale that involves large populations facing the same issue like addiction, racism or religious discrimination. Personal problems are usually internal conflicts a person may face that could be emotional, behavioral, physical or mental.

Whatever manifestation and source a problem may take, using a prescribed framework or process can provide you with some effective strategies to help you work through an individual problem, or in collaboration or consultation with other invested parties.

Identify the Problem

Usually, when there is a problem, we think we know what it is and where it came from. Sometimes, however, a problem is less overt and its nature and source aren't obvious. A problem may seem like it's one thing, but it becomes something else entirely upon deeper analysis. Identifying the problem involves looking at the situation from different angles and perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cause and nature of the problem.

For example, when a student is struggling to focus in school, it may seem like they have attention or focus problems, when, in fact, there may be issues at home creating a distraction. When trying to identify a problem, it helps to look at the situation holistically and try to analyze all the relevant factors that may represent underlying situations compounding the problem. A disagreement with a supervisor at work might seem at first like insubordination, but upon reflection, maybe it is really a well-intentioned employee hoping to streamline a work process to improve efficiency. What looks at first like an interpersonal problem of clashing personalities could really be a matter of different approaches to solving a problem.

Articulate the Needs

In this step of the problem-solving framework, invested parties identify and articulate their needs. This may be done individually or collaboratively. One of the most effective strategies for figuring out the needs of each person is to brainstorm a list of anything and everything that comes to mind, without editing or putting in too much thought. Organizing the thoughts can come later, but the important thing is to get it all out of your head and onto paper.

A helpful way to organize a brainstorming list is to make three columns and label them want, will, and won't. The want column is for all those needs that are important. These are your goals and hopes for resolution or the ideal solution. In the will column, list the things that may not be ideal, but you would be willing to compromise. These are negotiable points for reaching a resolution. In the won't column list those things you are not willing or able to do. These are the deal breakers. This kind of want-will-won't list is a great brainstorming tool to identify and articulate the needs of all those involved.

For example, in a real estate purchase, a want-will-won't list might look like this:

  • Want: halfway between work or school
  • Will: commute by public transportation
  • Won't: commute more than 30 minutes

Listing out what you want to do, are willing to do, and are unwilling to do can help to articulate your needs
image of a want, will, wont list

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