How to solve problems without attacking people

Solving any problem means getting to the truth of the matter.


Are you upset about irritating issues at work or at home? Do you feel angry with other people who will not cooperate? 

One way to address problems is to stop criticizing the people involved. Instead, define the problem as something that can be fixed.

“As long as you attack a person, you’ll likely never fix a problem,” says a psychologist we’ll call Marianne. “When you attack a person, the fight becomes totally personal.” 

The real problem 

If you’re having a problem with a stepchild, employer, sister, or neighbor, take time to look at the core issues. 

“My stepdaughter has caused a lot of problems in our marriage,” says a nurse we’ll call Vickie. “She is 40 years old and angry. She was on a mission to wreck our happiness.” 

When Vickie looked at the real problems, she realized her stepdaughter needed to vent. “I asked my husband to get into counseling with her,” Vickie told us. “It turned out she was angry with her dad and his first wife, who is now deceased.” 

Making changes

Solving any problem means getting to the truth of the matter. For example, if your cousin is wrecking his life by drinking, avoid criticizing your cousin. Instead, act hopeful he can reverse his problem.

“I confronted my cousin Leonard, who is 50, about his addictions,” says a man we’ll call Martin. “I told him I love him very much, and I told him I want to encourage him without attacking his character.” 

Martin met his cousin in a local restaurant to talk about the issues. Leonard had caused a lot of damage to his family and his children. Rather than attack him personally, Martin asked him to get into a recovery program and fight the problem. 

“Within six months, Leonard was in much better shape,” says Martin. “I told him he could defeat his addictions and regain his life. He’s well on his way.” 

Encourage them 

The remarkable outcome of going after a problem is that you can think more logically. The minute you start focusing on the people who caused it, the crazier you’ll feel. And, the crazier you’ll behave. These tips can help: 

Start with the solution to a problem. For example, if your adult child is unemployed, ask him or her to find a part-time job. Anyone in reasonably good health can work four hours a day. 

Be encouraging. A messy marriage or a stressful work environment need not get worse. Help all people involved to focus on the positive. Sometimes, one small change can reverse a lot of stress. 

Allow people to fix themselves. While we all can help fix problems, we can’t “fix” people. They have to decide how to behave better or make better choices. Never dish out hateful language or act as if someone needs finetuning. 

“My son-in-law, Don, lost his job six weeks before Christmas,” says a woman we’ll call Betty. “I told him not to panic, to stay cool. This man is my grandchildren’s father, and he’s always worked very hard. I told him I’d type his resume, which I did, and we’d find him a job.” 

‘Stay upbeat’ 

Betty says Don’s phone was ringing the day after Christmas. Her son-in-law has been offered two good jobs. 

“The only way to reverse a problem is to stay upbeat,” says Betty. “Otherwise, you get tired and quit. When we go after fixing the problem at hand, it become a game instead of a chore. Doors start to open.”

Judi Light Hopson is author of the stress management book, “Cooling Stress Tips.” She is also executive director of USA Wellness Cafe at



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