The ART of defining a complex problem

Defining the problem, is sometimes the reason the problem never gets solved. As a Business analysis or Change agent, having the ability to identify and define the problem is a skill that is a must. When identifying the defining a complex problem it is imperative that you:
• Ask the right questions;
• Be Patient;
• Use a rigorous process for understanding the dimensions of the problem.

Questions can be used to involve people, create interaction and discover information. Asking provocative questions can help a team reach the right answer.
There are many types of questions including the following:

• Closed. Closed questions encourage a specific response, and are used to control the conversation. They give the inquisitor control by encouraging a yes/no response, or a restricted answer, and are useful in fact finding, research or selection interviews. In a research situation answers will be easier to code and classify for statistical analysis. When time is limited and you need to elicit specific information the closed question is the preferred approach. Leading and direct questions are types of closed questions. Lawyers and inquisitors use leading questions to lead the accused into expected answers. Managers and interviewers use direct questions to get specific information. For example, “who was your last manager?”

• Open. Open questions encourage people to open up and explore issues. These invite self-disclosure, and are used to encourage people to talk by expressing opinions, attitudes, thoughts and feelings. The respondent has greater control to shape the conversation in these situations, while the questioner has more time to listen and observe. Some people use a funnel sequence, going from open to closed questions as appropriate. In other words, they start with the broader aspects of the topic and narrow down to the specifics. Less frequently they may use an inverted funnel. Here they go from a narrow perspective and then widen out to more general issues. Discovery questions are a type of open question enabling the questioner to investigate subjects. Managers should be aware of the benefits of using open or closed questions, and the funnel and inverted funnel approaches.

• Probing or clarification questions can be used to expand on or clarify issues. A clarification question tries to make clear what the speaker has said. It may help the speaker reframe the issue, so that it is clearly understood and not misinterpreted. The ability to probe is at the core of effective questioning. Clarify issues by asking the question “what exactly do you mean?” Seek justification for issues by asking the question “how did you arrive at that conclusion?” Determine relevance by asking the question “how is this pertinent to the discussion?” or look for elaboration or extension by asking such questions as “tell me more.” Clarification questions can be either open or direct.

• Confrontation. This question is used to confront issues, by trying to gain a clear understanding of what is happening, by bringing it out into the open, rather than sweeping it under the carpet. They tend to be direct and to the point.

For a free course on The ART of defining a complex problem visit or

Test your listening skills

Listening Skills are key to good communication skills, management skills, interpersonal skills and so forth, but how well do you really listen? Take this test and see how you get on


1. In formal situations take notes while the other person is speaking to assist your memory, and show that you value what they are saying. Afterwards, frequently repeat and review the information that you wish to register in your long-term memory.
2. Use the difference between the thinking rate and speech rate productively to summarise and prioritise the key issues that the speaker is making. This will improve your listening skills.
3. Think before you talk and pick the most appropriate words to get your message across. Study body language to gauge the reaction to your words. The words used, plus your interpretation of the body language used, equals the total message.
4. Practise the art of facilitative listening to become an effective listener. Listen twice as much as you speak. The greatest compliment you can pay to a person is to listen to them attentively. It is the simplest and best method for winning friends and influencing people.
5. Practise the art and science of asking questions. It is the most efficient and effective way of acquiring information and keeping the conversation going.

Accepting feedback

Accepting feedback can be daunting at times.  Many of us fear rejection and negative feedback can lead to low self esteem if not looked at in a constructive way.  Always be positive and use feedback as a self improvement tool.  Here are some tips for accepting feedback

Listen with an open mind and heart.

Encourage the speaker to focus on their behaviours, not them (if they are having trouble with this).

Use open ended questions, summarizing, and paraphrasing to ensure your own understanding.

Try not to get emotional or defensive.

Offer your point of view, maintaining a calm voice and relaxed tone.

Accept that even if you don’t like what you are hearing, when it comes to being accountable, you have to take responsibility for your actions (or non-actions).

Offer solutions, rather than expecting the other person to tell you what to do.

Listen for the other person’s perspective and how your behaviour impacts him or her, as well as the team.

Do your best consistently and reliably.

Thank someone who offers you a compliment.

The Professional Training Academy offers a variety of soft skills training for professionals and those wishing to up skill.

Resolving Conflict

1) Remove all masks.

Sincerity is the ideal mindset for conflict resolution. If we cannot achieve sincerity, at least aim for authenticity. Being authentic means not hiding behind masks, but showing up as yourself.

 2) Identify the real problem.

Often the real problem lurks somewhere behind or underneath the apparent problem. Conflict will not be resolved until the process can address the true problem.

 3) Give up a must-win attitude.

When players compete too hard all the time, a good deal of life passes them by. They go to the wall to defend a position and will go down screaming, taking as many people with them as possible. Conflicts are not won; they are resolved.

 4) Develop several possible solutions.

In reality, most situations can go in a variety of directions. It may be up to you to create the choices.

 5) Evaluate options and select a solution.

Choose the best workable choice from the possibilities you have gathered. The goal is to choose the possibility that will hold the most for both you and the other party.

 6) Communicate in a manner certain to be received.

A great idea goes nowhere if you don’t communicate it to others. Only when someone feels you have heard their message are they ready to listen to yours, so listen actively. Communication that is full of anger, lacks clarity, and has no commitment behind it, will not bring about action.

 7) Acknowledge and preserve the value in the relationship.

Resolving conflict is about preserving relationships. If that were not so, people would not try to resolve their conflicts. Disputes would just fester and eventually destroy the relationship. To provide a temporary time-out for individuals who feel they are locked in conflict, ask questions such as these:

  • How do you think we are doing?
  • Are we making progress on this issue?

Do you feel your views are being heard?


The Professional Training Academy offers a range of Business Skills Training, Office Training and A Certificate in Business Analysis