Rules for Problem Solving

For discovering, choosing, and proving the truth there needs to be a willingness to recognize how communication filters, hidden maps, and outcome expectations might sabotage an interaction event for solving problems. Because of these it is possible for one person to be in perpetual rebuttal of the other person's ideas without knowing why. They hear the evidence for a certain truth but are unwilling or unable to believe its validity to reach a conclusion together. To them, their ideas have already been proven true, error is unthinkable, and there is no room for discovery of alternate, accurate choices. A common result is that assertive interaction screeches to a halt. Aggressive or passive behavior that is hazardous to the relationship is likely to be chosen instead. Explosive hostility or angry submission causes a rupture that, if uncorrected, can lead to separation and dissociation.

When characters of the Disney movie, Little Mermaid, Ariel (the mermaid), Scuttle (the seagull), and Flounder (the fish), interpreted the artifacts they had found of people living on land, they drew mistaken conclusions about the purpose of a fork. They reasoned with no accurate observations and the mythical testimony of the seagull that it was used for combing hair. She was embarrassed to discover that her beliefs were in error when she picked it up to use it to comb her hair at her boyfriend Eric's table at lunch time. She should have used it for its real purpose, to eat.      

Ariel made the decision that “since I have the backing of my friends Scuttle and Flounder who told me it is a comb, then it must be true, and I will use it for one”. Her reasoning should have been: “I will allow someone to challenge my belief, if my friends are correct, then I will use it for a comb when I get away from under the sea”. She had an older, more mature friend, Sebastian (the crab). He was tasked with giving rebuttal testimony on her father's behalf, which Ariel always ignored, causing all kinds of trouble for herself and her friends. In a show of force her father tried to terrorize her into giving up her dreams of life on land and intimidate her into submitting to his will to stay under the sea. Alienation began. Not a good parenting strategy. Neither will it be a successful blueprint for couples who disagree.

Teenagers, newlyweds, and couples with marital problems who listen to testimonial evidence presented by friends who have limited knowledge, and who ignore the assertions of adults with mature, successful experience, may also make errors in the conclusions they draw and implement. Teenagers often begin the use of alcohol and other drugs because of the defective testimony of immature friends like Scuttle and Flounder. Assisting with identifying these chaotic narratives, rewriting logical, desirable outcomes, and restoring harmony are frequently the job of counseling.

Remember these rules for problem solving.

1. Expect each person you interact with to believe their thoughts and feelings are probably accurate, and your thoughts and feelings may be in error.           

2. Don’t make the mistake of relying on flawed evidence and perpetual rebuttal like Ariel and her father did to establish the claims of what a problem is and how to solve it. Use if – then statements. It’s OK to argue: if – then or since – then.

3. If – then statements are preferred early in the process and until the problem has (1) been accurately discovered, (2) a solution has been fairly chosen, (3) implemented and (4) proven to be a satisfactory decision. Each step starts as if – then and only moves to since – then with scientific-like thoroughness. Since – then solutions are reserved for ideas that have been discovered, chosen, and proven together.

4. Challenges are best solved when those involved are committed to take the time necessary to interact wisely using their language and beliefs skillfully to shed light on both accuracy and error – in with the good, out with the bad. Invite a coach to help monitor your progress if your efforts prove to be insufficient before they become hopelessly fruitless.