Problem Solving/Decision Making
Quips and Quotes “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one
It is only in this whole process of meeting and solving less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
problems that life has its meaning. (Robert Frost 1874-1963). This lesson addresses the
issues of solving problems and making decisions.
M. Scott Peck
Lesson Objectives What are the steps involved in problem solving?
What are some methods for problem solving?
What are the problem-solving approaches to resolving conflicts?
How do groups make decisions?
Suggested Construction: Design a flowchart
Instructional o Using the sample provided in the Interactions journal, Unit 3 (How to
Strategies get out of bed in the morning!), direct the students to construct
flowcharts on a topic of their own choosing.
Direct Activity: Individual/group decision making
Independent o Create an activity where students are set the following problem: The
Interactive world is being forced to evacuate, but the lone spaceship can only take
Indirect 20 people. That will be the only surviving aspect of the human race. Who
Experiential do you take?
o After working on the problem individually, form the students into pairs
and have the pairs agree on a list of 20 people.
o Repeat the process with groups of four, then eight.
o Discuss how the different group sizes affect the decision-making
Jigsaw: Problem solving
o Assign one of the five methods of problem solving for a variety of
o Discuss how restricting problem solving to one method hinders/helps the
Activity: Decision making models
o Review decision-making models already discussed in the course,
including the “From both perspectives,” talking circles, consensus
decision making and dialectical reasoning.
Discussion: Life and living
o Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems.
Without discipline we can solve nothing. There are four tools that
together form a disciplined life: delay of gratification, acceptance of
responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing (M. Scott Peck, 1978, p.
Making Connections Moral dilemmas, see Topic 2.5.3, Moral and Ethical behaviour for additional
Resources Poetry: “The Road Less Traveled,” by Robert Frost
Interactions : Unit 3, How to get out of bed in the morning!
Lesson 4.5.8: Teacher Information
What are the steps involved in problem solving?
Many psychologists believe that four aspects are central to problem solving:
Stage 1: Problem identified and understood
Stage 2: Potential solutions generated
Stage 3: Solutions examined and identified
Stage 4: Solutions tried and evaluated (Baron et al., 1998, p. 286).
What are some methods for solving problems?
Selecting an appropriate strategy is critical to effective problem solving. There are several methods for solving problems:
Trial and error involves trying different responses until one works.
Algorithms are rules for a particular kind of problem that will, if followed, yield a solution.
Heuristics are rules of thumb we often use to guide our cognition. In terms of problem solving, heuristics involve strategies
suggested by prior experience – ones we have found useful in the past.
Analogies, or the application of techniques that have worked in the past.
Metacognitive processing, in particular talking through the problem solving process, allow us to observe the particular steps
taken to solve a problem (Baron et al., 1998, p. 287).
What are the problem solving approaches to resolving conflicts?
There are various approaches to resolving conflicts:
In Win-Lose problem solving, one party gets what he or she wants, whereas the other comes up short. People resort to this
method of resolving disputes when they perceive a situation as being an either-or one. The most clear-cut examples of win-
lose situations are games in which the rules require a winner and a loser. Power, authority, implied force or intellectual power
are some common methods of defeating an opponent.
In Lose-Lose problem solving, neither side is satisfied with the outcome. The reality is that lose-lose is a fairly common way
to handle conflicts.
Unlike lose-lose outcomes, a compromise gives both parties at least some of what they wanted, though both sacrifice part of
In Win-Win problem solving, the goal is to find a solution that satisfies the needs of everyone involved. Not only do the parties
avoid trying to win at the other’s expense, but also they believe that by working together it is possible to find a solution that
goes beyond a mere compromise and allows all parties to reach their goals (Adler et al., 2001, p. 446).
How do groups make decisions?
The process by which members of a group reach a decision is different from the process involved in individual decision making if
only because decisions in groups are usually preceded by discussion. Two examples of problems associated with group decision
making are group polarization and groupthink.
The group polarization effect is evident in such situations as group aggression (in which individual tendencies towards
aggressiveness are magnified by the group), and bystander intervention, when helping is inhibited in group situations because
individuals want to avoid looking foolish. There are three possible explanations for group polarization:
o Social comparison assumes that individuals try to see themselves and present themselves to others in as favourite a
light as possible.
o Persuasive argumentation suggests that the preponderance of persuasive and novel argumentation in group discussion is
responsible for the polarization effect.
o Social identification is a process whereby individuals define themselves with respect to other people, and conform to
the norms and stereotypes associated with the group (Alcock et al., 1998, p. 337).
Janis (1982) has coined the term groupthink for the tendency for group members, especially elite groups, to assume that the group
invariably has the right answer. It occurs when a group seeks a solution to a problem without fully considering all the possible
alternatives (Alcock et al., 1998, p. 164).