How to Negotiate Problem-Solving

Have you ever wondered how to be an effective problem solver? On average, we make over 35,000 decisions a day. Yet, much like negotiation, decision-making and problem-solving really isn't a skill that we're taught. I recently interviewed Sarah Ramsey, a professional problem solver and relationship expert. In this interview, we discussed how to negotiate problem solving and achieve the next level of success in business and in life through solution-based thinking. I wanted to share some of the key gems from the interview with you. 

Spaghetti, Waffles, Action:

Sarah explained her signature problem-solving system: Spaghetti, Waffles, Action. She describes spaghetti-thinking as problems that are very emotionally charged, where our emotions stack on top of the issue(s) at hand. This ends up looking like spaghetti. The problems become layered and interwoven as one big messy problem. This type of spaghetti thinking is a universal problem which is heightened as most of us aren’t even aware we’re doing it. If you elevate your awareness, you can start to put labels on some of the noodles and begin to unravel the spaghetti.

With a waffle, you can take one bite at a time. When you start seeing your problems as individual waffles squares, and handle one problem at a time, you can solve them simultaneously. Putting the problems into waffle squares lines up the problems side by side instead of on top of each other and allows you to prioritize and separate the emotional problems from the practical ones.

Once each problem is in its own square, you can create action plans around each problem. You start searching for solutions to each problem individually, and it creates clarity. When you are intentional with solution-based thinking, it avoids burnout and makes you more respected as a leader. 

Smart Girl Syndrome

Smart girl syndrome is when people are struggling with something, so they work harder and get better. Then, from that point on they think this is the solution to all problems, including changing circumstances that are out of their control. This rarely works. But when we’re wedded to a belief system that tells us we just need to put our nose to the grindstone as hard work will ultimately prevail, we can stay stuck in a spin cycle where we continue to throw more valuable energy at problems with no prospect of success. Sarah advocates, “if it’s not working, stop doing it”. 

Our first and most important negotiation is with ourselves and negotiating our own mindset. Simple solutions can often be the most effective. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, toiling away with processes that aren’t getting us any traction. 

Self-Talk to Become a Better Problem Solver

Self-esteem, integrity, and confidence are key when it comes to problem solving. It is important to negotiate your mindset when it comes to these things. Tell yourself that you follow through, you show up, you do the things you set out to do. If we break our promises to ourselves or tell ourselves things that are not empowering, then we aren’t being the best version of ourselves. I invite you to retrain your brain. Tell yourself you’re going to do the things you want to do, so you can follow through and come up with solutions to make sure these things happen.


Setting boundaries with ourselves is important. However, it is also important to set boundaries with other people, as well as the problems in our lives. Sarah used the story of the three little pigs to illustrate the point. One little pig had straw boundaries, one little pig had stick boundaries, and one little pig had brick boundaries, but none of the pigs changed the Big, Bad Wolf. In our conversations around boundaries, sometimes we forget that they're meant to protect the pigs, not to set wolves straight. She explained that we get ideas in our head of showing the wolf “Look how strong I am” thinking the wolf will then say “Well, I've been selfish for years and now you've got me. We can be on even ground and be friends." But that isn’t what is going to happen. This goes back to the strategy of if ‘it’s not working, stop doing it’. It’s about changing yourself; you can only control yourself. 

Toxic Person Proofing

Toxic person proofing is a form problem solving. There are many abstract concepts and confusing words when talking about toxic people. Sarah likes to break these down for people and make it as simple as possible. She explained that one of the best ways to protect yourself from either manipulation or confusion is to go back to the spaghetti and waffles. The more clarity you have in your own mind, the less likely that somebody can confuse you. 

In negotiating your best life, you must negotiate your environment as well, which includes your inner circle. There are always going to be toxic people, and it is impossible to completely avoid them. It is best to just deny the toxic people access to us as much as we can. If we can’t completely deny access, we can always delay access. 

When dealing with a very difficult person, remember the actual problem. Sarah used the example of going to a party in a backyard and when you go to the front door, you’re told you can’t get in. Instead of focusing on the person not opening the door, remember what the problem is. The problem is you’re trying to get to the backyard. If you remember that, you’ll realize you can just go around the house.  

It's important not to let toxic people become your focus. Many times, we can be the toxic person to ourselves with our negative self-talk. I invite you to use your inner critic to help yourself with negotiations, not to shame yourself. 

How to Use Emotions in Problem-Solving

Many people feed their emotions rather than seeking practical solutions. It’s important to solve emotional and practical problems side by side. Many people use all their energy talking to people about their fears and emotions, rather than trying to find solutions to the problem. 

These tips are sure to make you a better problem solver and help with learning to focus on solution-based thinking. To hear the full interview, check out the podcast episode.



problem-solving system, Sarah Ramsey, solution-based thinking

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