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Creating a problem statement

Creating a problem statement

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will be able to craft an effective problem statement and will understand the importance of problem statements in conflict resolution

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Creating a Problem Statement

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The goal of conflict resolution is to help parties in conflict reach a resolution that is mutually satisfying to both sides. I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about a particularly critical point in the conflict resolution process. And it's the point where the parties come together to collaborate on a problem statement.

So what is a problem statement? Well, a problem statement is quite simply a formal written statement of the problem that needs to be solved by the parties. Now, here's what's key. This statement incorporates the joint interests of both parties. So the joint interests, of course, are the interests that both parties hold that we've identified through this process.

And we phrase this statement as a question. It's very helpful to state it as a question because then it invites an answer. So let me give you an example of the way this question might be phrased. So here is a sample problem statement, a formula, if you will, for how you could put this together. How can we meet party A's listed needs, party B's listed needs, and the listed shared needs of both parties at the same time?

So we have party A's needs, party B's needs, and their listed shared needs. How can we meet these at the same time? So that's really the goal of a problem statement, to put this into writing. And what it allows the parties to do is to come together and collaborate, because they're going to write this statement with the help of an intervener. They will write the statement so that they own it, they agree to it, they realize that it reflects their interests. And they have come together to find a way, a creative way to meet those interests.

So we didn't just start here with the problem statement. It took us awhile to get here in conflict resolution. So what do we do before we can get to a problem statement? Well, parties come in with positions. Underneath those positions are interests. And that's what we want to get at, the interests. So let's take a look here. Positions, as you recall, are what parties typically come in with. It's the way of getting their needs met. Each side has thought about it. They know what the issue is. They think they have the solution.

They have a position on an issue. And that's typically why they're in conflict, because these positions really clash. But underneath the positions, after the parties come together, and they are allowed to share their positions, share the way they view the problem, the issue, underneath the position there are interests. And interests, of course, are the reason the parties are there, the real reason. It's what needs to happen. It's the needs that need to be met in order for them to feel satisfied.

So they think the position is the way to meet the need. And the interest is really what needs to be met. So party A has a list of interests and party B does. And the goal here in conflict resolution is to get at those interests so each side can hear them. So we will have already gone through a process where each side has listed their interests. So here we have party A, however many interests they have, party B. And as we do this we may find, as the parties actually sit down and discuss these things, that there are some interests they have in common.

For example, let's say party A is a landlord, party B is a tenant. They are in this conflict resolution process because the landlord has raised the rent. And the tenant is not paying it, is refusing to pay this raised rent. And the landlord is saying, well, you're going to have to go. You either pay the rent, or you're going to have to leave. So strong positions here, they both come in with strong positions.

Underneath we find that the landlord has a number of interests. One of the main interests is to keep good tenants, wants to keep good tenants and needs to raise the rent, because there needs to be repairs done in the building. And he can't afford to do that right now. And he knows he's not going to have good people wanting to live in this building or the kinds of tenants he'd like to attract, unless he does some needed repairs in the building.

So these are two top interests here among others. The tenant has recently lost hours at his job, is making less money, can't afford to pay the rent, and when you raise the rent really can't afford to pay that. And so his interest here also is financial. And he's upset because there are repairs that need to be done. So he has an issue here around repairs.

Now as they begin to discuss these things, they uncover that they actually have-- the landlord has enjoyed having this tenant in the building. He's been a good tenant up until now. The tenant enjoys living here. He realizes that this has been a good place to live. He doesn't really want to look for another place. But he doesn't want to stay there without the repairs being done. And he won't pay the higher rent.

So we discover that they both would really, underneath all of this, like to maintain their business relationship. They would like to make this work. So the problem statement, now, they would have to come up with a way to phrase this that makes sense to them, that really fits. But the problem statement would be something like, how can we meet the landlord's need to fund new repairs and keep good tenants including the current tenant, and how can we meet this tenant's need to be able to pay the rent, pay less rent yet get the repairs done?

How could we meet their financial needs here? Are there any solutions to allow the tenant to continue to live here, for them to maintain this relationship, to get the repairs met and to make it financially feasible for both parties? So financially feasible, repairs, and mutual relationship are reflected. How can we do this? It's reflected in this problem statement.

Now, the exact wording may not come out right the very first time you try to do this. But that's fine. The process of coming up with the wording, of being able to state this in a way that each side can own, is a critical part of putting the problem statement together. So if you don't get it right the first time, the conflict intervener will help the parties write or rewrite the statement. But the statement will reflect the mutual needs, the joint interests here that the parties share. So I'm Marlene, and I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial with you. And I look forward to the next time.

Terms to Know
Joint Interests

Interests held by all parties to a conflict.

Problem Statement

A written description of the objectives of a solution to a conflict, generally phrased as a question.