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August 4, 2008

Get to the point…

Solving problems is part of what makes this such an enjoyable career choice for me. Consultants use the logic learned over the years to furrow down into problems, they poke and prod at all of the angles and points in the issue, and them home in on the causes and solutions.

A consultative approach to problem solving helps to sell services, build relationships, gain repeatable income, and to generate a reasonable track record just on solving issues alone. (Actually the sales potential of this approach cannot be underestimated)

One of the hardest parts of the process is actually finding out what the problem actually is. I have found that most people tend to focus on what’s bugging them, rather than looking deeper at what the problem actually is.

So you are trying to highlight the problem and you get a long and winding description of the symptoms. Complete with who did what, when, and all of the technical ins and outs of every possible situation and… it’s enough to make your head explode!

When you are interviewing people about the issues and trying to get to the heart of the matter these questioning techniques may be useful for you.

Focus on causality. Keep them thinking about the issue we are here to resolve and challenge them to keep their points relevant.

Politely dismiss any items that are not useful to the discussion. Make the point that the topic is not related, and quickly move on the refocus on where we are. People invariably learn from this and then self audit their comments and inputs in the future.

Ensure Relevancy. Question the statements to ensure that they are really related, and not just things that people think are related.

Do not stop at un-resolvable issues. The level of detail you need to get to is the level that you can do something about.

Do not allow people to mix issues together. Some problems will only occur when two or more things happen at once. Other times people make connections that, when tested, don’t really exist.

At all times you need to make sure that people focus on what is going on, and to pull them back when they stray. Weak facilitation of problem solving sessions leads to bureaucratic, nonsensical and over done responses.

Also, people tend to try to use the sessions as a “this is what bugs me” outlet for their frustrations. This takes a bit of tact of course. People have every right to express their feelings, and in particular when it is related to the issue under review – but as the facilitator you cannot let this distract the entire agenda.

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