How a step-by-step approach to tackling a personal problem can help you find a way forward

When in the midst of a crisis, one of the worst elements is the sense of a lack of control. It can seem that the odds are overwhelming and insurmountable, but this need not be the case. There are problem-solving techniques that can assist individuals in taking back control and coping with personal issues and crises in their lives.

One such technique is set out below. It is not complicated, but comprises five easily understood steps and can be used for a wide range of problems, including conflict situations, being faced with having to make an important choice, work difficulties, and relationship problems. This technique can be used on a self-help basis.

The Chinese word for “crisis” is extremely interesting. It is formed of a combination of the symbol for danger and the symbol for opportunity, and this technique is grounded in the belief that every problem has inherent in it its own solution. The aim is to view a problem as a challenge with the potential for positive growth or benefit, rather than as a hopeless scenario. This type of attitude can result in finding solutions to problems that have previously appeared insurmountable. Use of this technique is directed at allowing an individual to pinpoint exactly what is causing the problem or difficulty, recognising the resources available to use in tackling the problem, giving them an increased sense of control over their problem and providing them with a method for use in dealing with any future problems.

There are five stages to be followed in the problem-solving technique, some of which echo some of the stages in a counselling relationship. In detail, these stages are:

Stage 1 – Define the problem

This involves the individual in a search to identify the specific problem which is causing concern. That sounds simple enough, but in reality, it may prove difficult in itself. For example, in the case of someone who is unhappy with their work situation, before the problem can be isolated and identified, it may be necessary to consider several questions, such as:

  •  What upsets me most?
  •  Is it my working environment?
  •  Is it the amount of my workload?
  •  Is it the nature of the work I do?
  •  Is the problem due to a colleague(s) or client(s)?

At this stage, it may become evident that there is more than one problem and if this is the case, the different issues will therefore have to be tackled one at a time, in order of importance in terms of the effect of each on the individual.

Stage 2 – Think of alternatives

Thinking positively at this stage, and regarding the problem as a challenge, will help to generate ideas for solutions. Ideally, one is trying to consider as many possible solutions as possible, no matter how impractical they may seem at first, and brainstorming is the best way to do this, whether alone or by asking others for suggestions. It is important to write down all ideas resulting from this brainstorming.

Stage 3 – Decide and plan

Take all of the potential solutions generated at stage 2, apply a “pros and cons technique” to each one, and write down the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. Having carried out this process for each possible solution, a decision should be made as to which solution is most appropriate and a plan made for taking the first step in implementing it. For example if a decision has been made to change employment or employer, then the first step may be to update one’s CV.

Stage 4 – Taking the first step

The first step towards achieving the ultimate goal should be something that can be completed within 48 hours. Taking the example of updating the CV, this could be done in draft as a first step with completion of the final document being the second step. Using a step-by-step process, the ultimate goal can be achieved.

Step 5 – Evaluate and modify

Having completed stages 1-4, it is important then to evaluate whether the most appropriate solution was chosen at stage 3. It may be that the chosen alternative requires some modification at this stage, or it may be necessary to go back to stage 3 and choose a different alternative to solve the problem. However, if this has to be done, it should be seen as an integral part of the process and not a sign of failure. It is important to maintain a belief that through a process of trial and error, the desired outcome will be achieved.

Very often, being in a state which requires the use of problem-solving techniques can be very stressful. However, you do not have to suffer the crisis alone. Through all of the process, LawCare will be there to help and support. Through its 365 days-a-year, free and confidential helpline on 0800 279 6869 (9am-7.30 pm weekdays and 10am-4pm at weekends/UK bank holidays) you can speak, in total confidence, to someone who understands the problems that can occur in practice and in life. You can talk through the health issues that concern you, order your own thoughts and discuss the solutions that you have in mind. LawCare staff will never tell you what to do but will facilitate you deciding what that should be. There is also a comprehensive website at
Anna Buttimore is Administrator of LawCare
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