The Lift 007 | Structured Problem Solving Skills

The Podcast

An ABA Technologies Academy Podcast

 1.0 BACB, 1 Supervision

Price: $15.00

Linda LeBlan and Tyra Sellers

Linda A. LeBlanc, PhD, BCBA-D

Tyra P. Sellers, JD, PhD, BCBA-D

This podcast episode describes the importance of teaching supervisees to take a structured problem-solving approach. The roles of negative reinforcement and self-control in problem identification and problem-solving are discussed. The podcast describes a structured 5 step process for problem solving and strategies for maximizing your success at each step.

Learning Objectives:

Attendees will be able to identify at least one possible result of negative reinforcement related to problems Attendees will be able to identify 5 steps involved in problem-solving Attendees will be able to describe one strategy to increase their success in problem-solving.  

Buy CES $15

Supervisor and Mentor book back coverThe Book

The book focuses on the importance of strong relationships and teaching higher-order skills throughout any supervisory endeavor. The authors provide a conceptually sound set of supervision practices that will guide the actions of those who aspire to become better supervisors or mentors at any point in their careers.

Learn More      



Dr. Linda LeBlanc (00:08):

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to The Lift, Episode 7. I'm Linda LeBlanc...

Dr. Tyra Sellers (00:14):

...and I'm Tyra Sellers.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (00:16):

Today we're gonna be focusing on chapter 7 of our book, which is about structured problem solving. Problem solving is something that has interested me for the last decade or so. Not only studying problem solving from a developmental perspective with young children, but also examining how adults solve problems. We tend to be very capable problem solvers, as long as we decide we're going to solve a problem. That really speaks to the fact that it runs through the human experience to sometimes not notice problems when we should. In fact, our quote for this chapter, "All problems become smaller when you confront them instead of dodging them", really speaks to that. That notion there is a powerful role of negative reinforcement with respect to how we respond or don't respond to problems. Also, potentially in some of our problem solving strategies. Tyra, how about you? You love a problem or not so much? [Laughing]

Dr. Tyra Sellers (01:42):

[Laughing] I mean, I don't always love a problem, but I definitely love an opportunity to think about problem solving and I love an opportunity to solve a problem, so there's that. My interest in problem solving, similar to yours, started early on in my career. Both with young children and with the individuals with whom I worked with myself. I got pulled into it not necessarily specifically related to problem solving overall, but thinking about a piece of problem solving, which is creativity or behavioral variability, which is something I'm very passionate about and comes at a specific point in problem solving. I agree that we appear to be uniquely positioned to engage in a lot of escape and avoidant behavior around problem solving. I think also if we are not thoughtful about problem solving processes, that we could end up with some false positives where the problem is solved, but not necessarily because of what we did, but because we're great at identifying patterns. We might assume that it was what we did and then we will do that thing again under similar conditions in the future and that's really dangerous. I think talking with you over the last many years about problem solving has solidified how important it is because there are some pretty significant risks around missing opportunities or those false positive situations. I'm excited to talk about problem solving today.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (03:19):

Woohoo! Problem solving! [Laughing] One of the things that I think can happen is that negative reinforcement can operate in that you don't even acknowledge that there is a problem.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (03:38):

Uh huh.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (03:38):

If you were to name it, so to speak, and give it power, then you'd have to do something about it and we just have this really powerful ability to not see the dysfunction that could be right in front of us. I think that can occur not only in some of the work we do with clients, but it can absolutely occur in the supervision management process where you just stay on autopilot. If they were to peek in and observe and say, "Wait a minute. Did you notice this is happening?"

Dr. Tyra Sellers (04:26):

Uh huh.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (04:26):

We'd say, "Well, yeah. Maybe so..." [Laughing] but we won't come to that point on our own.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (04:35):

Yeah, I agree. I think that we also are very busy and multitasking and taking on more and more responsibilities, which can result in us not having systems to continually look for emerging problems. Purposely looking for problems, not just to check in that everything is going okay. Really a system to check in different areas like programming with your clients or your trainees and your supervisees, or your caregivers for the specific purpose of temperature check any emerging problems happening. I think we just don't do that. It's something that folks probably need to build into their repertoires so that they even have an opportunity to ignore the problem. If you're not even looking for it, that's problematic in first place. Then I think there's this other piece that comes into it where we might catch a glimpse that there's an issue, but it's not that big of a deal, right? Maybe it's smaller in scope or it doesn't have as big of a risk of harm as we would think if we really dug into it. You catch a whiff of it, but you don't really attend to it, right? [Laughing]

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (05:46):

Absolutely and I think especially when you are supervising people that are very new to practice. I think I see that a lot where they can tell something is wrong, but not really see the entire scope of it. For example, they may come to you for guidance and it's about a program that's not going well. They're not seeing really good acquisition and as you begin to dig in, you start to realize that some faulty stimulus control pattern has emerged and that there are probably multiple programs that are being affected by this. They just haven't yet made contact with the scope of it through the data.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (06:43):

Yeah, absolutely. I think another example is if you're someone that supervises people that supervise people, you might have someone come in to you say, "Ah, you know. Things are funky with this person" or "I'm not enjoying working with them," but they're not quite able to put their finger on the issue or "I'm just not enjoying supervision"' and not understanding the scope. I think what I would love for people to hear is, and this is not behavior analytic, but if you... well, I'll try to make it behavior analytic.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (07:24):

[Laughing] Okay, because we are offering a CE for this. [Laughing]

Dr. Tyra Sellers (07:28):

Yes and you can help shape this, because you're really good at doing those in the moment translations. Here's what I tell my folks and what I try to remind myself: If I am engaging in covert or overt verbal behavior or having physiological responses that are described as discomfort or aversive. I'm having not awesome thoughts about someone or my stomach feels queasy. Those are pieces of data. I think what is uncomfortable for us is that we don't want to necessarily say those are indicating something. You don't know what they're indicating yet, but my guess is if you dig in and do the work, you will be able to discriminate what is causing or at least what is related to the kind of covert or overt verbal behavior or your funny feeling. If you have those indicators stop and try to engage in systematic problem identification where you can discriminate exactly what the issue is. Don't discount that, but don't buy into, "Oh, Linda is just difficult." No. What is it that I'm attending to when I say those things? You have to dig a little deeper, but I think that happens a lot when folks smell the smoke maybe on the horizon, but you can't quite figure out how to change your lens of focus to find the actual fire. That's often where a mentor or a colleague comes in where you can talk about those things.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:02):

I think that's right and I think a lot of times, as you're talking to that person, they may help you be able to recognize that you have a role...

Dr. Tyra Sellers (09:12):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:12): the evolving problem.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (09:14):

Common denominator.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:15):

[Laughing] And that there is something that you're responding to in that other person's behavior, but you're also responding to your own behavior.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (09:29):

Uh huh.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:30):

That is because you haven't acknowledged, "I feel uncomfortable when I am supervising this person", you are behaving in a very contingency shaped way with no power of your rules to say, "My job is to be their supervisor, so I need to put that aside or I need to behave differently and I'm not doing it".

Dr. Tyra Sellers (09:57):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:58):

Very often, when we don't really name something as a problem and look at what are all the contributors to this problem, we miss that our behavior is part of it. We are the environment to someone else's person just like they're the environment to us. I think when we miss that contributory variable, we also miss our opportunity to solve the problem.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (10:29):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (10:30):

Acknowledging that you are affecting a situation is the great first step to recognizing that if you behave differently, you might affect that situation differently.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (10:44):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (10:44):

That's what gets you into more meaningful problem solving.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (10:50):

Yeah and I think that trickles into this other idea that many of us, and I'm guilty of this for sure, catch that whiff of smoke, might even be able to lightly identify it. Maybe not quite the scope of the problem, but then we think, "It'll probably get better", or "I need to give this person some more time", and engage in some avoidant behavior. I would argue that in most situations likely ignoring or just thinking that something is going to improve over time, probably is ineffective. If it does improve over time, something probably changed and you just can't detect it, so don't do that. [Laughing]

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (11:39):

Yeah. Problems aren't smart. They don't solve themselves.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (11:42):

No. [Laughing]

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (11:43):

Just like the stinky trash isn't gonna take itself out. Just waiting and hoping that's gonna get better with time is just almost never really effective.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (11:55):

That whole "train and hope". For example, generalization is something that is abhorent to us. We would never do that, so it makes sense that we should not do that when it comes to problems, particularly those within the supervisory relationship.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (12:15):

Yeah. I do think the supervisor certainly has their own behavior in solving problems that they should examine and in many ways may already be very good at, in certain realms, but the value of actively teaching your supervisees and trainees to use a structured problem solving approach. I think that is a great gift that you can give because there will be a time when you're not around and you want to build their independence and their success and capability to solve those problems when you're not there to solve it with them anymore.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (13:05):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (13:06):

That's a hard focus to keep, because when supervisees and trainees come to you with a problem, there's a really good chance you have seen that, done that, solved that before, and you have a solution that's at strength and there can be a stunting of the growth of the supervisee if you just give out those solutions like candy instead of pausing and going through that problem solving process with them to teach them how to do it.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (13:54):

Right. You're going to give them the fish or you are going to teach them how to fish. [Laughing]. Absolutely. That said, there are instances probably where the risk of harm is too great that you do just have to take action and that's okay. If there's an instance where as a supervisor, I just have to solve this problem right now because there's a risk of harm, but then I can take that as an opportunity to debrief, talk about why I made that choice and then walk them through my problem solving and problem evaluation processes. I think most issues, whether or not your supervising or trainee is identifying it or you are identifying it, can probably be solved in a more instructive manner. That said, you should teach problem solving outside of the presence of an actual problem, right? Let's teach a structured problem solving method in a more didactic manner and then apply it when those real problems come up with them.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (15:00):

Throughout my whole life, in all kinds of situations, I tend to be a little speedy in my behavior. Lots of thoughts, lots of actions, lots of talking, lots of everything and I really have to view it as my job and my purpose. I have to arrange my environment to keep myself mindful of the fact that it's not my job to solve their problems. It's my job to teach them to problem solve, but that really takes self-control.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (15:38):

Yes. Slow down, Linda.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (15:41):

[Laughing] Slow down, Skippy! [Laughing] There is this quick reinforcer and low effort to just give the solution because you've already rapidly done all the steps of problem solving and gotten there, plus they're going to be grateful and happy and you're a giver of the good things.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (16:05):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:06):

That's an ultimate quick, immediate, low effort reinforcer. The other is this more effortful, "Let's go through the steps. Let me not say what I already know and ask questions."

Dr. Tyra Sellers (16:23):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:24):

To help you think about what you're going to figure out and it's delayed. It's a bigger reinforcer when you do that, but the reinforcer is their later independent, generative problem solving, and you might not see that for months.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (16:42):

Yeah. Well, do you have strategies to increase the latency between, "Linda's hearing about a problem" and "Linda's solving the problem, so she makes space for someone else to solve the problem with her support"? What do you do? What are your strategies?

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:59):

One of them, and I don't wanna tell you all of them, because if I ever have a supervisor they're going to know, and then like, "Uh huh. That's Linda's little strategy now", but I talk with my hands. When I'm listening, I cross my fingers really tightly together and keep them in my lap.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (17:18):

Everybody listening, you all can't see this, but she's literally modeling this for me now. [Laughing] Interlacing her fingers and holding them up to the camera so I can confirm she does that. [Laughing]

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (17:30):

That's right and it helps me pause and I also insert a few responses that pauses and probably one of the ones I've been called out on before is...

Dr. Tyra Sellers (17:48):

Wait, can I tell you? Can I say it?

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (17:50):


Dr. Tyra Sellers (17:50):

Is it this one?

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (17:51):


Dr. Tyra Sellers (17:53):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (17:53):

[Laughing] That's right.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (17:55):

Nailed it.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (17:56):

That "Well..." will typically be followed by a question or an observing statement rather than the more direct response. I recognize that my impulsivity and giving the answers actually was a problem and I had to generate some alternative things that I could do because once you do something that starts to get the person who's brought the problem on that problem solving train, that's very reinforcing. When they start talking about, "Oh, I see what you mean. Maybe this other thing is also related". That's really reinforcing for me. I just have to get myself to that point.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (18:52):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (18:52):

Early on, I even would write myself little sticky notes [Laughing] that would be visible to me, but not them right at the bottom of my desk that says, "Teach, teach, teach". [Laughing]

Dr. Tyra Sellers (19:08):

I love those little covert visual prompts that we have.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (19:12):

[Laughing] How about you?

Dr. Tyra Sellers (19:14):

I think that probably your delay or mediating response of "Well..." has made it into my repertoire. I think also I often am not good at recognizing it before the words start leaving my mouth. I do a lot of converting. I might start saying, "Oh, you know, I can see that..." And then I'll pause. Then I'll say, "Well, you know what? Actually, I want to know what you think. What do you see?" Or, "What are your thoughts?" I don't usually catch myself ahead of time like you do. I'm at least usually able convert it. When I know that there's a problem solving opportunity coming up, I have steps that I go through before I start talking about it with the person or if I know I've identified a problem, but I want to pull it out of them. Before I meet with them, or as they're presenting the problem, I go through this checklist in my head: Did someone get hurt or is someone going to get hurt in the next 24 hours? If that's the case, I might need to just jump ahead and go ahead and solve it. If not, then my internal dialogue is like, "Cool. Calm down. This is a teaching moment. This is not your moment to shine. This is your moment to help someone else shine". I just go through that narrative in my head to remind myself that my goal and values related to supervision are to strengthen someone else. Not to make me look good, not to brighten my light. I don't need to do that. We need to make the whole world's light brighter and that usually helps me. It's like a pre-check. Pre-flight check.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (21:05):

That's right. Got the checklist ready to go. Ready to take off.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (21:09):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (21:09):

One of the things that can happen as someone starts to get better at the problem solving process, and we'll talk in a minute about the process that we lay out, is they recognize direct client behavior and issues as a problem to be focused on. Maybe something's not going well with this program or problem behavior is developing, but they don't recognize other kinds of things. Let's say an issue in the relationship with the family or even a staff performance issue the same way.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (21:57):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (21:57):

Basically, that new situation doesn't evoke their problem solving repertoire. Instead, it evokes that lifelong history we have with blaming, "They're broken. This is an issue with them."

Dr. Tyra Sellers (22:19):

Yeah. Don't look at that. [Laughing]

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (22:21):

That's right. A part of, I think, being a good supervisor is broadening that stimulus class of situations that will evoke the problem solving repertoire that you are trying to establish. As you said, you don't have to have a problem causing you pain right now to go through the problem solving process.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (22:51):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (22:52):

You could examine a situation that's already happened. You could present a new situation that person's never encountered. It's really about, I think enough at bats with this problem solving process to really expand the definition.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (23:11):

I agree. I think that there's one other component in there when you were talking about that there need to be sort of stimuli to evoke a problem identification and problem solving. I think that one of the reasons that we are better at it with our clients is that we're consuming a truckload of data related to our clients. You should be all the time, right? Often we're not structured in taking data with our trainees or taking data with our staff satisfaction or our stakeholder satisfaction or our ability to double check that we're not engaging in micro-aggressions or you name it. We're not collecting purposeful data on those things. We don't come in contact with stimuli that we could be like, "Hey, guess what? There's a problem over here". My other suggestion would be spend time figuring out some systems for checking on those things. We know how to take data on if our trainees are consistently late, or if they're making less eye contact in meetings or they're smiling. Put some momentary time sampling up in that piece and catch some data on what's going on, so you can catch those instances and exercise your problem solving muscles with those more complicated or complex, or maybe just less familiar problems.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (24:35):

Yeah and we lay out a five step process and we have primarily been talking about step one, which is detect the problem and overcome that avoidance, get a little data, recognize the smoke. We talk in the book about teaching people to bring smoke or recognize smoke rather than waiting for a fire. Also, notice the subtle things. Notice what's missing that someone used to do because not everything is super in your face, right? Particularly, with interpersonal interactions often when a problem develops, there is a little bit more withdrawal, less contact, less comfortable, fluid interactions. That can be more subtle to notice, but once you've detected the problem, which for many people is scary, if they don't know that having a problem does not mean you need to immediately have a solution. It just means you need to start problem solving. You already know what to do. Don't be scared to say you have a problem. Just start problem solving and that leads into those next steps of defining the problem behaviorally and taking a functional assessment approach.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (26:05):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (26:06):

Generating solutions and then doing a careful Pro/Con analysis of those solutions to pick one and then quit your dawdling. Implement and evaluate. Even if it wasn't the right solution, you are going to be able to course correct. We've talked a lot about step one and we should know a lot about step two: Defining the problem and finding the true scope and taking that functional assessment approach. You've done some research in OBM on applying a functional assessment approach to staff performance problems. Talk to us a little bit about how. It's not all an experimental functional analysis of client destructive behavior. There's so many other ways to do that bigger meaning of the word functional analysis.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (27:09):

Yes. I think that's a really good point and I love that you're that you're making that. Identifying functional relations is just about, "Can you consistently say under these conditions, this thing happens, changes increases, decreases?" We do that with our acquisition programming. We should be doing it with acquisition programming for staff, which is called training. You should know over time when I train in this way, using these examples, folks master it pretty quickly, don't engage in a lot of errors, maintain it over time. I think we sometimes forget to apply that to adult learners that we're working with. Parents, other teachers, our trainees, our staff. We have a number of really fantastic free tools that people way smarter than me [Laughing] have created in our profession. They are all variations on the performance diagnostic checklist and the one that is probably most used in the applied setting for service provision is the performance diagnostic checklist for human services. It's fantastic because again, it increases that latency to solving the problem, forces you to focus on environmental variables. It's better matched for discreet type problems, like someone's not showing up on time or not accurately filling out their supervision paperwork. I do think that you can use it to help you connect with how to take a functional approach to things like interpersonal communication problems and things like that. I'll tell you, just in my opinion, with trying to create, trying to assess and create a plan for problem behavior with the client. When I say problem behavior, I mean, behavior somehow that is dangerous or impeding their ability to be independent and is identified by all parties as important to try to work on. I think the most critical piece, and that people fail at a lot, is the operational definition. I think it's hard to teach. I think it's hard to get it right. I think it's hard for us to give up all of the subjective terminology that is at strength for us. I think same thing when it comes to issues with ourselves or with our staff, our trainees, that we really don't do a great job of defining. I think this is a spot where you need to sit for a while. I think it's best when you're trying to figure out what the problem is. Talk with a colleague, a mentor, a supervisor or peer, because likely, especially if you are involved in the problem at all, there's gonna be quite a bit of subjectivity in there. Really trying to describe this in objective terms, in measurable observable terms, the same way we would, any other thing that we're trying to get our hands around. That's true even of skill acquisition definitions, right? Something I want you to do more of. I should have an operational definition of it. I think that defining the problem, as you said, is critical. You've identified it. Now, really stay here. Don't put your running shoes on and try to run this. It's not a sprint. Figure it out. I think we've got tools that can help us and our technology, obviously, can do wonders here.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (30:48):

I agree. What I find is if someone comes to a supervision or consultation session and they are basically telling stories and can't yet say exactly what they're working on, they haven't yet really formulated that good operational definition, which means they certainly aren't going to have identified the function, which should then lead to the solutions that you generate, which is step three. It's so critical when you're doing this process to don't jump ahead.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (31:35):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (31:35):

Make sure after you've detected the problem that you really do know what the true scope, be able to describe it and know what some of the functional determinants are. When you pull solutions out of thin air, that aren't related to those functional determinants, just like anything else, they are more likely to have to be powerful and aversive rather than directly related in a meaningful way to what was causing the little problem tornado in the first place.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (32:10):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (32:10):

Our power to operate more directly using reinforcement, using a variety of other strategies. That's related to how well we identify the function with all kinds of problems. When you get to step three, that's probably Tyra's favorite step.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (32:34):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (32:34):

Where it's time to generate solutions and what I find is a lot of people want to jump to this, "Oh problem! Okay. Solutions!" They wanna skip step two.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (32:46):

I certainly have.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (32:48):

[Laughing] Don't do it! I've been guilty of it. Again, remember, I'm more on the impulsive train where I just go like, "Ooh, Ooh! I got a good idea. That worked before". Really holding yourself accountable to generating solutions and generating variable solutions can prevent you from doing what Tyra mentioned earlier. That is being a one trick pony where, "I got my one strategy that I used, no matter what that problem and looks like". Hey, I bet you're a nail, because I got a hammer. That notion of you hold yourself accountable to generating. There's a universe of possibilities. Some of them are going to be terrible. [Laughing]

Dr. Tyra Sellers (33:36):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (33:36):

But more than one of them will be reasonable and actually hold yourself accountable to generating those. Tyra, what do we do to help if we get stuck on this of like, "I just want to go with my old buddy: functional communication training", or what have you? It's not that that's a bad idea, but how do you get some other things in the mix?

Dr. Tyra Sellers (34:00):

Great question. I think one of the first things is keep in mind the potential function that you've identified because that's gonna help you in generating solutions that are better matched, right? Again, just saying, "Oh, that person isn't performing well. We're gonna throw more training at them". That might not be the right thing to do. Think about different variables that you've identified. Some of the things that I do, just Tyra's head about creativity. I try to engage in problem solving activities or brainstorming. Generating the solutions under stimulus conditions, different than the ones I'm in right now. For example, if you present to me with a problem right now, Linda and said, "We gotta brainstorm some solutions", I might push my chair back and stand up. Better yet, I would leave this physical environment and I would go to a different environment. The reason is, whether or not we're aware, the stimuli that we contact regularly, are more likely to generate responses that we have engaged in, in the presence of those stimuli. It's very easy to just say, "Okay, we're gonna problem solve, trainee. Let's leave the office and go for a walk around the building", or something like that as we're talking. Let's go in the meeting room, let's go down to a cafe. Provided you can maintain confidentiality, but change the stimuli. I frequently will write down the first solution that comes to mind and then put it away, or put it on the whiteboard and then put a line through it. Something that will kind of evoke, "Not that". Now, I might go back to it after I generate more. It's not gone, but I don't want it to be most present because I'm more likely to keep coming back to it. I also will often set goals for myself or other people. We have to come up with at least 10 different possibilities. Now, I can't quote the research on this, but I've been in a few workshops where other people that do work on this will say, "You're not actually getting degenerative, new, truly novel responses until you're like in the forties", which many of our problems don't need that much creativity. That's like in the business world, but if you don't set a goal, you're likely to stop and land on one before you've considered all possibilities. Sometimes we'll set a goal and then often if I've identified a couple of different environmental variables that I think are impacting, I might try to generate solutions under those different categories. I'm thinking some of it may be related, but they don't have enough reminders to get this task done in a certain way. Okay, cool. What are all the solutions there? Maybe some of it is related to, "This is not very fun to do". What are some of the solutions there? Then I can combo plate it, but those are my strategies. How about you, Linda?

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (37:22):

I love all of those strategies and that notion of write everything down because in my spitballing of ideas, some silly stuff is gonna come out too. I don't start evaluating while you're still generating.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (37:46):


New Speaker (37:46):

That evaluative piece really suppresses the generativity. Just write it all down. If a unicorn shows up a unicorn gets on the whiteboard.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (37:55):

I love unicorns.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (37:58):

[Laughing] That's right. Write it all down. I love that idea of knowing, "I wanna try to come up with at least this many ideas." In the problem solving activity that we provide in the chapter, we have four or five lines and they're there for a reason. We want to prompt you to come up with at least that many. Then, when you go to the next step for the Pro/Con analysis, there are five spots for you to put a potential solution and then evaluate those pros and cons.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (38:43):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (38:43):

There are these antecedent things that you can to get yourself to come up with some new ideas. I really like doing this step of the brainstorming of potential solutions with another person. Very often, their idea then sparks a couple in response and I never would've had any of those ideas if I didn't have that other person in my environment.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (39:16):

Yeah. That brings up another point that is a recommendation in this arena. Tack some rules, especially if you're doing it with someone else at the outset. Get at what you were saying, "No idea is off the table". A lot of people will start generating ideas from what resources do I have available? Don't do that. That comes later in your Pro/Con analysis. Start with that sort of question. If resources were not an issue, what are all of the possible solutions? Some of them might not be doable, but the ones that aren't doable could generate an algorithm or a variation of an analog or a variation of them that would be doable or that you could test out. Even if some of the solutions seem farfetched, or as you mentioned a unicorn, that's okay. Put them on there and give everybody permission. Nobody should say, "We already tried that", or "We don't have the money for that, Linda". That doesn't matter. As you said, this isn't the evaluative process, this is just the generative process.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (40:27):

Once you've done that generative process, you're obviously not going to put unicorn or wave my magic wand.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (40:36):

I'm putting unicorn as a solution from now on, every time. [Laughing]

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (40:39):

Every time. That's right. You're going to pick maybe some combo plates, as you mentioned. You're going to pick the ones that seem to have the most utility, just even at first blush, eliminate the ones that are probably not really gonna be viable yet, but pick 3, 4, 5 of those and then do that careful Pro/Con analysis. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? We encourage people to think about not only advantages and disadvantages, but the short term ones as well as the long term ones.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (41:22):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (41:23):

Fill all the boxes, because if you haven't thought of a disadvantage of a solution yet, you probably haven't thought things through carefully enough.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (41:36):

Yeah. I think you're absolutely right. I think about: Is it doable? Resources, that kind of stuff. Is it gonna be socially acceptable? Is it gonna feel good? One maybe doable with less resources, but not make people feel so great. Another might be a little more effortful, but make people feel better about it. I'm gonna pick that one. Am I gonna get a short term benefit? Am I gonna get a long term benefit? Is it sustainable, right? Like in the long term. So, absolutely.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (42:09):

That's right. I think the reason to think about the long and short term pros and cons is because sometimes the short term is real hard, but the long term is so much better. For example, let's say things aren't going well with that supervisee and you maybe even recognize that you've contributed to that. One of the solutions you can evaluate is an apology, a crucial conversation and that is hard. The short term cons are, "I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to."

Dr. Tyra Sellers (42:49):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (42:49):

Five times, please.[Laughing] The long term benefits are so worth it. There are things that you can do to try to cushion and eliminate the short term discomfort cons effort, but you can really make those longer term ones more present for yourself of, "It's the right thing to do. It's consistent with my values. I'm gonna be showing this person that a supervisor does this." That's an important part of your role and that it is okay to be wrong and it's even more okay to apologize. When you start writing all that stuff down, you start seeing like, "Oh my gosh, there are a jillion pros."

Dr. Tyra Sellers (43:41):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (43:42):

In the long term, I just gotta get through this really hard immediate con.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (43:49):

Yep. I think that's a fantastic point. I would just summarize that if you have a solution that ticks most of the boxes, but you're still hesitant, because it's gonna be hard or it's gonna make you feel bad or make someone else feel bad, a great way to move past that is to reconnect with your values. For example, in my work, what we often do when we have a solution or two things we're choosing between is we pair them with each of our identified values. If one of them is aligned with more or all of our values, that's what we're gonna go with. If we're hesitant about something and we can connect with our values, then often that is a way to slightly alleviate some of that discomfort. I know it's yucky, but this means I'm living my values of X, Y, Z. I really love that you brought that up.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (44:44):

If you are a little bit more on the impulsive side and you're jumping right to the, "Oh, found a problem. I'm gonna go with my go to solution," you're a little bit more on the impulsive side, but there's also the dawdler side. There are people who will go through each of those first four steps and then step five is: Gotta pick one. You gotta do it and you have to evaluate it. I think that we can have these histories where being wrong is quite aversive to us and it can lead us to avoid actually making the choice and going with it. That's where you get the like, "Well, I just need to think about it. Let me sleep on it. Well, let me just get a little more data. Let me just think about it." When that occurs, you've gotta really hold yourself accountable to, "If I need more data, what data is it?" Is it data about the function of the problem? Is it data about a potential pro or con of one of the solutions? If you can't describe what it is, you're probably just dawdling. [Laughing]

Dr. Tyra Sellers (46:04):

Yes. Ultimately, you have to pick a solution. You have to design how you're gonna implement it and have a plan and you need to pull the trigger and do it and trust that if it wasn't the best thing, in hindsight, after you get some of those data, you will have had a structured approach that you can go back to and you can tweak. Same thing with implementing a skill acquisition, or a behavior reductive program with our clients. We don't just write it and let it go. We're constantly checking in because we engage in philosophic doubt. There's always a possibility we missed something or there's a better way to do something. I think folks need to just sometimes jump and probably you're not gonna have the right solution every time or early on, and you're gonna have to go back and tweak and that's okay because no one is better positioned than a behavior analyst to do that.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (47:05):

Yeah. There's some exciting stuff happening in the literature right now and at least for JABA. I read every one of those papers so I know about it. That notion of we choose prompting strategies, error correction strategies, treatments for problem behavior. There are more and more studies coming out, particularly on the prompting and error correction, where you have an assessment that gives you data about several possible strategies and really helps you work through some of the pros and cons with data to support that, rather than just, "I'm gonna do everything least to most," or "I'm gonna do everything no-no."

Dr. Tyra Sellers (47:56):

Put your cookie cutters away. We don't do cookie cutter.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (47:59):

[Laughing] That notion of, "Here are your options, here's the data that you have," but then whichever one you pick the others don't disappear.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (48:11):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (48:12):

You're gonna get that data and you have to remember, it's just data. The data are what they are. If they're saying this isn't working, great. It's a good thing you got that data. Now you can choose something else. If they're saying this does work, great. It's a good thing you've got that data. There are times when you're gonna have to lather, rinse, repeat.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (48:40):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (48:41):

I picked the solution, I tried it. The data say, it's not going that well. Let's go back to the beginning.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (48:48):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (48:48):

Maybe even problem solve on your implementation. Well, are my data not good?

Dr. Tyra Sellers (48:55):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (48:55):

Is my procedural integrity not good? Is there another function that I might have missed? If so, what are my solutions? Maybe I had the right function and I just need to go back to my solutions, generate a few more or pick my second option or combo my second option with my first option.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (49:18):

Yeah. I think there are some data even relative to supervisory type practices and training practices that are telling us something similar. Just your go-to isn't the right way. There's an article by Bacotti and colleagues. I hope I'm saying that right. It's recent. This year, 2021, that really start showing that for many adult learners, at some point in the skill acquisition when you're training them, yes, immediate feedback following the response is great, but at some point individuals not only showed a preference, but also did better when the feedback shifted to beforehand, which makes sense, right? Like, "Okay, Linda. Tell me what I'm doing right and wrong as I'm doing it." Now that I'm getting better, I've got some acquisition, I'm more fluent, you coming and talking in my ear might be a disrupter. It might produce disfluencies. It's mucking up my flow. Like, "Get off my mojo. Tell me about it before." Remember. Blah, blah, blah, right? I love that idea that we need to throw away that cookie cutter, "one size fits all," or "I'm doing it this way, because I've always done it this way", and continue to be responsive to the improvements in our profession that our science is giving us.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (50:37):

And continue to take data on our own implementation.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (50:41):

Yes. Be a scientist in the moment, right? That's what we do. It's all practitioner science models.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (50:49):

I love it. Wouldn't Murray Sidman be proud? That notion, "Bring some science to everything you do in your practice, every day". To wrap it up on problem solving, I would say this: We've gotta recognize we have long histories where problems are terrible things and we hope we don't have them and we've gotta change that mindset to, "Oh, you've got one, but the best one you have is the one you know about." Don't hope there aren't any problems. There are gonna be problems.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (51:25):


Dr. Linda LeBlanc (51:25):

Recognize it and realize it, and develop that repertoire of what to do when you have a problem.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (51:33):

And teach it, expressly.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (51:36):

And teach it to others and give them that gift.

Speaker 2 (51:39):

Really quickly, Linda. I know we're wrapping up, but also just to call out a resource in the book in chapter 7. There's that appendix that helps you identify for yourself or work with a trainee, to identify maybe some deficits or excesses in your own or their problem solving repertoires as you're going through or teaching a structured approach. I really love that, because likely if you're someone who's more than three or four years old, you've got some funky stuff that has just been shaped over time in your problem solving. We've got that theme of self-reflection, spend some time thinking about where you maybe need to improve or teach your trainees and supervisees how to take a structured approach to do that self-reflection around their problem solving repertoires, so they can take a more active and meaningful approach to shaping things up.

Dr. Linda LeBlanc (52:34):

Yep. For this chapter on problem solving, which is the first of a set where we provide these appendices about assess your own potential problems with this repertoire and then work on those. We'll be talking about the same approach of self-reflection, self-assessment in our next couple of episodes and we really are going to bring this problem solving mindset back when we get to solving problems in the supervisory repertoires or relationship in a later chapter. All right. If you have been listening, please don't go anywhere because it's getting real and we have more guests joining us in our next episode. Join us again for another episode of The Lift.

Dr. Tyra Sellers (53:34):

Yeah. Go find yourself a problem and get it solved. Bye, everyone.


Leave a reply