Problem Solve Using The Four Quadrants

Problem Solve Using The Four Quadrants

Whether you’re reading this because you’re facing a challenge, or you’re interested to know how to approach a challenge more effectively then you’re in the right place.

In this article we’re going to explore how to gain a broader understanding of any problem and solve it more skillfully using Integral Theory and Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrants model.

A Caveat

Before we go any further, let me clarify something important. There are no actual ‘problems’ in reality, only occurrences. Pause for a moment and really take that in.

Reality doesn’t have problems, reality is simply unfolding. Problems only exist on the inside (in the conversations you have with yourself in mind) about what’s happening on the outside.

Having said that, I’m going to use the word ‘problem’ in this article because it points to how most people relate with occurrences in reality that are not in alignment with their expectations or desires.

The Four Quadrants

By using Integral Theory we understand that a significant part of human development is bringing awareness to habitual structures of perceiving. When these habitual structures run us, they lead to a limited view of reality. If you find yourself struggling with a problem and can’t seem to find a solution, chances are you’re stuck because you’re viewing the problem from a limited perspective.

What do I mean by a limited perspective? To explain that, let’s take a look at four distinct perspectives that make up the Four Quadrants.

First-person perspective / Upper Left Quadrant (mind)

I’d like you for a moment to think about a child you know under the age of 7. From an adult’s perspective, the behaviour of children that age can seem pretty selfish – it’s as if they just think about themselves all the time right?

That’s because they do. Prior to age 7, a first-person perspective is the only view a child has. They live entirely from within their subjective experience, what they think, feel, desire, imagine etc. An amusing example of how this perspective plays out in a young child is when they play hide-and-seek and bury their head behind a pillow thinking that because they cannot see anyone else, no-one else can see them.

In mature adults, first-person perspective is expressed as clarity around goals, intentions, feelings, motives, self-sense, beliefs and so on.

Second-person perspective / Lower Left (relating)

When we step into someone else’s shoes and view things from their eyes we are taking a second-person perspective. This developmental step forward brings empathy, the capacity to imagine what others might be experiencing. This position allows us to feel connected to and with others.

It is also in this lower left quadrant that culture exists, which is a collective agreement (spoken or unspoken) of how we do things around here. When you start a new job or move into a share house you’ll clearly experience the culture of the place for a week or two before it you becomes part of it.

Third-person perspective / Upper right (body)

Third-person perspective brings with it an objective perspective and ability to ‘look at’. Here one is able to think rationally and logically. To take third-person perspective is to step back, gain some distance, appreciate other perspectives, and see what they cannot see.

Fourth-Person Perspective / Lower Right (social and environmental)

As the individual matures even further, fourth-person perspective becomes available. This is the capacity to see how everything fits (or doesn’t fit) together. This position enables an understanding of how wider dynamics such as environmental, social, economic, political, organisational and so on are influencing us, and we them. This systems-view is the ability to see inter-objectively.

Your Habitual Preferences

Due to conditioning we learn to preference one or two of those perspectives, and dis-favour the others. Our primary preference is called our ‘native perspective’ which is the viewpoint from which we habitually view reality.

Let me share with you a simple example to illustrate how this could play out. If a group of people were brought together to work on a project, depending on their preferences the first thing that each individual would want to know would differ.

  • First-person perspective might want to know if the goals, values and timing of the project matched their own and fitted their needs.
  • Second-person perspective might inquire into who else would be on the team and whether there was alignment between the team members.
  • Third-person perspective might be interested in what they as individuals would need to do to be part of the project.
  • Fourth-person perspective might question if the current project would fit with other projects and systems already in place.

You can see how these perceptual preferences will have you seek out certain types of information whilst simultaneously ignore others.

Why is it Important to Be Aware of all Four Perspectives?

Wilbur’s Four Quadrants model illuminates that all four perspectives / all four aspects of reality are co-nascent, which literally means ‘born together’. In other words, they are constantly co-arising. It’s extremely useful to understand this because it honours the complexity of reality and allows us to confront whatever is occurring in a more skillful way than if we had only one, two or even three perspectives.

The bottom line is, if we’re not assessing, addressing and looking from all four perspectives (even if we’re missing just one) we can be significantly diminishing our potential and vitality in a big way. And in terms or solving a problem we are limiting our capacity to understand the complexity, and therefore deal with the totality of what is occurring.

Problem Solving Using The Four Quadrants In Action

Let’s say you’ve been struggling working remotely during Covid-19, here is how you could apply the Four Quadrants to help you problem-solve how to work optimally from home. For each quadrant I’ve outlined a few things to consider.

Upper Left / 1st PP / Mind
  • What are your frames of mind about working from home? If you’re framing it as disruptive for example, you’ll find evidence to prove that. How else could you look at working remotely? What has it enabled? How have you grown as a result? How could you make the most of it? The more meaningful something is to you, the more intrinsic motivation you’ll experience about it. Change the meanings you’re bringing to this situation and you’ll change your attitude.
  • If you say things like “I’m a people-person and don’t like working well on my own” then you’ve made that belief part of who you take yourself to be. By identifying in this way, you make it hard to see being around others when you work as a preference, and therefore make it difficult to have flexibility around that preference.
  • Are you taking care of yourself first and foremost? Are you putting on your own oxygen mask on first before helping others so you can go the distance. What do you need to be work optimally from home?
Lower Left / 2nd PP / Relating
  • What is the quality of your relationships at home and in your life? Are your family or flatmates supportive and co-operative in terms of everyone working from home? Are you in continual conversation about what’s working / not working or are you having those conversations with yourself in mind and getting nowhere?
    Or are you on your own? What meanings are you bring to that? Do you have family and friends support from a distance? Are you in communication with others?
    What if anything do you want to change?
  • What meanings are your sharing with your tribe? Are they on the same page and sharing your commitment to work optimally from home? What could you do differently to engage and encourage?
  • Are you able to take others as they are, whilst being cooped up together for long stretches of time? What part are you playing in any relationship challenges? Are you being what you are seeking in others?
Upper right / 3rd PP / Body
  • What is the quality of your physical well-being? How is that impacting how well you work remotely? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you exercise? Are you eating well and drinking plenty of water? Are you feeling energetic? If not, is your current way of being facilitating more or less energy?
  • How aware are you of your physical body? Are you attuned to it’s needs? Do you eat to deal with stress or because your body needs fuel? Are you listening to what your body is telling you?
Lower Right / 4th PP / Systems
  • How do all the systems at home function together? Are they a good fit? Have you optimised your home to co-function as a workspace? How do your thoughts, actions, conversations, relationships, schedule (or lack of) work together? Are all these systems working well together to help you optimise working from home?
  • What do you want to change in order to improve functional fit? Do you have a clear division between work and home life, or is it bleeding into one? Do you have a quiet workspace at home? If you are sharing an office with your partner, what system is in place to do conference calls? Would it be better to get up earlier to get some quite time before the household rises? What plans or strategies to you have in place to help you work well from home and how will you know if you’re on track? Do you have a coach to discuss the challenges you’re facing?

In Conclusion

By using the Four Quadrants Model, problem solving can become a simple process of taking in all four perspectives. This enables you to move from a partial approach to a holistic approach that honours every part of the problem. Instead of focusing on a single outcome or aspect, you are now able to address, develop and consider all four of these significant life areas, leaving no stone unturned. By utilising all available perspectives and therefore resources for any situation, a higher likelihood of success and fulfilment is made available.

As Marcel Proust said,

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”


Integral Leadership Coaching Sydney

Written by Soo Balbi

Soo is a behavioural expert and one of Australia’s leading Developmental Coaches who helps women thrive. Soo assists her clients to cut to the heart of any challenge, enabling choices and possibilities previously unavailable.

Contact Soo today

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.