Family Problem Solving
A “problem” is defined as “something that lacks an easy solution.” Solution is part of the definition. The first step in approaching a troublesome family problem is to think that the solution is in there somewhere — all you have to do is find it. This approach differs sharply in its outcomes from the approach of those who feel that a problem is something you have to tolerate, as if it will always be with you unless it just happens to go away.
Many “problems” arise out of how decisions are made within a family (or any group of people living or working together). A basic grasp of decision-making and problem-solving skills will prevent many problems from arising and will help resolve many others. Some initial steps and concepts include:
Write out two or three things that need to be decided that might help resolve problems for you or your family. Ask yourself if those are the most important ones. Pick THE most importantone. (You have just taken a basic step: setting a decision-making priority.)
Using the “negotiation” approach, ask a family member involved in your “top priority” if he or she would sit down with you and discuss how to tackle the decision or address the matter in a new way.
Remember that decision-making has several levels: It involves the “power balance” in your family; it involves logical and creative thinking; it involves change (sometimes scary); and it involves your overall relationships.
Explore alternatives together. Write them down as you go — that will help clarify the decision(s) to be made. Be straight, not manipulative; listen carefully; stay on the issue; be cool and patient; don’t promise more thanyou can deliver. You may not get ally ou want — this time around. Good negotiations involve give and take.
A Good Decision Means One Less Problem
Many “problems” arise out of how decisions are made within a family — or any group of people living or working together.
Making decisions within a family can be complicated. Family decisions usually have emotional backdrops (such as old anger or blame), ways people interact, confusion between “relationship” versus decision-making, and perceptions and assumptions about other family members.
Making decisions is intimately tied to solving (or creating) problems. A good decision means one less problem, but a bad one — or a series of poorly made ones — can create serious problemsand weaken the overall relationship.
Knowing some techniques that work before tackling tough decisions really increases your family’s odds. The first thing to understand is that decisions involve power, authority and influence.
Every interaction is related to power: power does not exist without relationships; relationships do not exist without relative power. Some families (or groups) have the benefit of having learned ways of making decisions in a more cooperative, open fashion, with few competitive, defensive patterns other families have developed — but which they could change if they worked at it.
Some things social scientists have learned are:
- Conflict develops when both persons or sides seek the most personal gain and there are no rules for reaching decisions about either big or little matters in their lives. Every family needs rules about sharing resources, from storage space to money. They also need ground rules for allocating decision-making authority and how to go about making decisions.
- Perception is a major factor in both decisionmaking and general interactions. A “belief” is powerful because you base your actions on it. If you believe family members don’t really love you,or will betray you, then all of your actions toward them follow from that.
“Words have power” because they influence belief and belief dictates action. When one member of the family is particularly forceful, other members may be cowed into accepting decisions they don’t really like. In making family decisions, as with negotiations leading to them, the goal should be a decision everyone can live with — even though parents are ultimately responsible.
The person on the short-end of a lose-win situation tends to undermine the agreement, directly or indirectly, through forms of “passiveaggression” or other means. This means one-sideddecisions can be worse than no decision at all —they don’t really solve the problem and weakenthe commitment to the overall relationship.
Many decision-making traps can be avoided by drawing upon basic skills of listening, consulting,clarifying, avoiding anger/blame, and collaborating.The expression of mutual agreement prior to enacting the decision is an importantelement of the process.
Reprinted with the permission of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. 2008 Palo Alto Medical Foundation. All rights reserved.
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