Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Four Quadrant Problem Solving

We are probably all familiar with the time-honored technique of approaching a problem by making a list of pros and cons.  This can be helpful in making a decision on how to handle things.  A recent article in Counselor suggested a way to improve this technique, allowing us to further refine an issue into its components.

This technique is called the Four Quadrant Method.  It is similar to the usual way in that a line is drawn down the center of a sheet of paper, but goes further in that a line is also drawn across the paper, creating four areas.  Each area represents a different take on the issue.

The upper left quadrant is for listing things that are positive about keeping things the way they are, the upper right for things that are negative about maintaining the status quo.  The bottom left quadrant is for listing positive things about changing the current situation, and the bottom right about anticipated negative results of change.

By addressing that we have reasons for not making a change, we make it easier to identify and address valid concerns regarding the change, as well as recognizing those reasons which are not valid.  We must acknowledge that something "works" for us in our current state in order to accept the need to change.

Once we have filled the four quadrants, we can narrow in on one or two items from each list for further examination, whether in meditation or journalling.  We can consider whether each reason is valid or simply our minds trying to hold on to something we find comfortable.

Here is a sample chart using the issue of whether to go out to a monthly dinner with our SO and another couple, with whom we have always shared a lot of alcohol.

Positives About Going

Negatives About Going

Will enjoy catching up with friends     
Will have a good meal  
Will get out of the house

SO and other couple will be drinking
Will feel pressure to drink as well
May feel left out if not drinking

Positives About Not Going

Negatives About Not Going

Will not be tempted to drink
Will be putting ourselves first
Will save calories/money                 

Will feel like a spoil sport
May cause a disagreement with SO
May insult other couple

By looking at this chart, we can identify valid concerns (The possibility of drinking, the chance of causing an argument or insulting the other couple) as well as the benefits of going versus not going.  Further, we can weigh each issue to determine how important it is to our goal (maintaining sobriety).

In this instance, it may be beneficial to assign each item a number from 1-10 to indicate how important it is to us, with positives being a + and negatives being a -.  This can help point out things we need to focus on.

Each individual would need to determine how to proceed based on their own situation.  The likelihood of drinking may be so great that it outweighs the positives and other negatives.  Further contemplation might reveal that what is really at issue is a fear of appearing like a "spoil sport", which is something to be worked through and may not preclude going to dinner. It could even reveal insight into a deeper issue, such as a dependence on the perceptions of others in creating our own self image.

This technique has a multitude of applications from the simple, as in the example above, to the more complex, such as understanding a resentment or deeper fear, and may be a good tool to add to your list in working through the issues that arise.


  1. yay i am the first to follow. :) *gentle hugs*

  2. tried to link you to my blog for my blogroll, but it won't work. why?

  3. ok that is just weird. it is working now. spooky cyberspace stuff. make tonight GREAT~ *gentle hugs*