Clearly Defining the Issue with Critical Thinking

Do you ever try to define the problem before you having a full understanding of the situation? I know I’m guilty of this pretty often which is why the concept of clearly stating the problem is essential to all conversations related to problem solving, decision-making, strategic planning and so forth.

Scott Dannemiller, a senior trainer who delivers the Critical Thinking Boot Camp, did a terrific job illustrating the need for clearly stating the problem or issue.

In a perfect world, these conversations would work like this:

You start by asking a question. You then expand on the question with assumptions, reasons, arguments, etc. This will hopefully shed light on the underlying issue. Once you’re able to define the issue you can then broaden it again and work out a solution.

Sometimes I think the process looks like this:

It’s no wonder it’s easy for miscommunication, trial and error solutions or even conversations that never pinpoint the underlying issue. Perhaps this is why the Kettering quote stands out to me, “A problem well stated, is a problem well solved.”

I’d like to take this one step further. An essential part of this is to have a clearly defined issue that everyone is in agreement with. If the issue is not clear, how can the solution be clear?

Here are some of the techniques I found helpful when trying to define issues during the Boot Camp:

  • Asking open ended questions
  • Asking if others agreed or disagreed
  • Acknowledging relationships between issues, aspects of problems, arguments, etc.
  • Asking the same questions in the positive & in the negative
  • Asking what the issue is NOT

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Elizabeth Pauker-Silva

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