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What’s Your Problem-Solving Style?

Problem solving fortune cookieMany of us might wish there weren’t so many problems in life. “If only”  keeps us stuck, just like, “Why me?”  We’d rather have a life that flows effortlessly. Given that life is full of problems, maybe the best option is to get really good at solving them.

Sometimes problems come because we make bad decisions. Some come because of our relationships with others and some come through the thoughtlessness of others. Some of our problems come from our own feelings and ways of looking at life.

Effective problem-solving improve your sense of well-being, your mood, your hope and self-confidence.  Learning how to solve problems can improve your overall health. Moreover, problem-solving skills can be taught. People aren’t born knowing how to solve problems.

In the book  Solving Life’s Problems, the authors point out that problems include the following: not knowing what to do, seeing a situation as complex, being confused about conflicted goals, not knowing how to do something, not having enough time or resources to take care of an issue, being uncertain what to do, or being afraid to try due to fear of failure or other emotional issue.

The First Step in Problem-Solving

When faced with a problem, the first step is to accept the problem. Believe in your ability to solve it and have a positive attitude about the situation. Why is your attitude important? Being afraid of problems drains the energy that could be spent on solving the problem. But more than that, our natural inclination when we’re afraid is to run and avoid if we can. Avoiding problems tends to build our anxiety, stress and general discomfort, but we do it anyway.

We could avoid altogether. And we can also jump in impulsively so we can get rid of the problem as soon as possible. Of course, if we haven’t thought it through, we are likely to take action that is ineffective or makes the situation worse.

Some of us are discouraged just by having a problem. We don’t want to problem solve. Maybe we’ve not had positive experiences in the past so we expect to fail again. When we can’t think of a solution quickly, we may doubt ourselves and see the problem as unsolvable. We give up and see ourselves as failures.

Others of us become upset at having a problem. We view problems as intolerable. Traffic shouldn’t be so bad and the customers shouldn’t be so cranky and they shouldn’t charge such high prices for rent. We fight against problems by yelling at other drivers, blaring the horn, arguing with complaining customers and getting behind on the rent when we’d rather buy a new dress.

None of those reactions are what is referred to as a Positive Problem Orientation. A positive orientation, which is associated with more successful problem-solving, involves seeing the problem as a challenge rather than a threat; being realistically optimistic and seeing problems as solvable; having self-confidence in one’s ability to solve problems and understanding that solving difficult problems often takes persistence and effort. We need to be willing to commit ourselves to solve the problem rather than avoid it.

Problem-Solving Styles

We also have problem-solving styles. These include rational problem solving, impulsivity/carelessness style, and avoidance style.

The rational style includes deliberate and systematic planning. Individuals with this style tend to gather relevant information and facts, identify the obstacles, set a realistic goal and generate a variety of alternative solutions. They then compare the pros and cons of the alternative solutions and devise an effective plan.

The Impulsivity/Carelessness Style involves active attempts to solve the problem, but in a hurried, incomplete way. People with this style tend to go with the first couple or so ideas they have and don’t consider the consequences of their ideas.

The Avoidance Style is marked with procrastination. Individuals with this style tend to be passive, deny the existence of problems and tend to depend on others to solve problems for them.


To develop good problem-solving skills, developing a more positive attitude and a willingness to improve your rational skills will be the first steps.

This week, when you have a problem, consider looking at it as a challenge. Maybe remember that everyone has problems and you’ll have a lot more. Commit to just letting it be a task you need to do and not let it ruin your day or scare you. See how many different alternatives you can think of to solve the problem. Go through each alternative and consider the possible outcomes.

Resist procrastinating and really think the situation through. If you notice that you are judging yourself, let go of judgments and concentrate on the solutions.

Note to Readers:  My sincere thanks to everyone who has completed our second survey. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on our new survey about being emotionally sensitive. Results will be given in a future post.



Nezu, A.M., Nezu, C. and D’Zurilla, T. Solving Life’s Problems. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2007.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tomasz Stasiuk

What’s Your Problem-Solving Style?

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). What’s Your Problem-Solving Style?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 May 2012
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