Since most problems involve people it makes sense that the same things that kill relationships can also block our efforts to solve problems.
The December 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review carries an insightful interview with psychologist John M. Gottman, executive director of the Relationship Research Institute. Gottman has invested the past 35 years in studying how people develop, build, and even destroy good relationships so his observations are worth consideration. (I don't know this guy so please don't interpret this as my endorsement of his work.)
Dr. Gottman identifies what he considers to be the four best predictors of "break-up or continued misery" in a relationship - criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt (Harvard Business Review, December 2007, page 50). As I read this list, its application to business is clear and I couldn't miss its direct connection to the human dimensions of problem solving.
When a team of people comes together in an effort to solve a problem, Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" often show up as well. Before efforts are invested in trying to solve the problem people feel a need to criticize and assign blame. That precipitates an expected round of defensiveness from those to whom the problem is now attached. When we're attacked, our natural instinct is to protect ourselves, so stonewalling begins as people move into their battle positions. All of this inevitably leads to an undercurrent of contempt between the accusers, the accused, and the innocents that wonder why they every agreed to come to this meeting.
An extreme scenario? Yes. But it underscores the reality that if you don't recognize and address the relational dimensions during any problem solving endeavor, your efforts to attack the problem can easily degrade into attacks on the people involved--creating another problem with lingering effects. Gottman's research involving 900 arguments discovered that "The vast majority of conflicts are about the way people in the relationship fight" (page 48).