The Best Way to Solve Interpersonal Problems

It is not what you think!

Sometimes your best bet to make a wise decision is to pretend you are someone else.

You are told to go with your gut, follow your heart, and trust yourself when you are faced with problems and decisions to make. When dealing with interpersonal problems, however, this may actually be bad advice. Researched published in the journal Psychological Science demonstrates how you may not have the best answers for yourself, and where you may find them.

Solomon's Paradox

A new kind of bias was discovered by Igor Grossman of the University of Waterloo and Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan when it comes to making interpersonal decisions.

Grossman and Kross named this bias "Solomon's Paradox," after King Solomon, who was known for his overall wisdom but poor personal choices.

Solomon's Paradox states that a distance from an interpersonal problem results in a wiser decision made about it. 

Research on interpersonal decisions

Grossman and Kross conducted three experiments with approximately seven hundred participants who reported to be in monogamous relationships to study the idea of "self-distancing" as it relates to solving interpersonal problems in these relationships.

First experiment

In the first experiment, the researchers asked participants to imagine their partner having an affair and to imagine the partner of a friend having an affair. They were then asked a set of questions about the two situations, which were designed to measure the participant's use of "wise reasoning." Wise reasoning was defined to include recognizing the limits of one's knowledge, the consideration of others' perspectives, possibility for future change and ability to compromise.

The results indicated that participants made wiser decisions for friends than they did for themselves.

Second experiment

Grossman and Kross then examined whether asking participants to make a decision as if they were a third party enabled them to make a wiser decision. They asked subjects to either put themselves in the position of having a partner who cheated or to put themselves in a friend's shoes whose partner cheated.

As it turns out, when participants were asked to take a friend's perspective on the situation, they were able to eliminate Solomon's Paradox and use wiser decision making skills.

Third experiment

In a third and final experiment, researchers sought to demonstrate whether age had any effect on wise reasoning on interpersonal decision making. In efforts to answer the question if wisdom came with older age, they divided participants into two groups, which included younger adults, aged twenty to forty, and older adults, aged sixty to eighty. They found that both age groups were susceptible to unwise decision making when solving their own interpersonal problems. 

The take home message

Getting distance from difficult interpersonal scenarios may be the best thing you can do to figure them out. If you have a personal conflict, your best move is to either ask a friend to help you resolve it, or pretend that you are a friend to of yourself.


Grossman, I & Kross, E (2014). Exploring Solomon’s Paradox: Self-Distancing Eliminates the Self-Other Asymmetry in Wise Reasoning About Close Relationships in Younger and Older Adults. Psychological Science, 25(8), 1571-1580.

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