Jan 15, 2020 in Business Coaching

Identifying Where Problems Live

Problems tend to live in only four places - Check out this technique to quickly fins out where a problem lives.

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When someone comes to you with a problem in business, do you take time to find where that problem lives, or jump straight with possible solutions?

Taking a few seconds to identify where a problem lives, makes it much easier to quickly identify possible solutions.

This exercise is based on Robert Dilts Logical Levels, and the NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Meta Model. I was taught this technique by the fantastic NLP trainer Kathlee La Valle 

Problems tend to live in four main places.

Values– Where you and other people are affected by action to be taken.

Beliefs – What you believe you can or cannot do.

Strategy– Do you know how to do something; have you been taught the skills.

Environment– Do you have the place and the equipment you need to accomplish the task. 


Solving problems in each if these areas require a completely different approach.

Values and Beliefs are in the inside world and can only be solved by helping someone think and feel differently about the situation. 

Values:If someone’s values are compromised, they will not be able to work effectively, because they are being asked to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Beliefs:If someone does not believe they can do something, when they have the skills to do it, they need help in changing their limiting beliefs

Strategy and Environment are in the outside world and can only be solved with teaching how to do something, and making sure people have the right tools and workspace to do this.

Strategy:If someone does not know how to do something, and are stuck until they get training to learn how to do this 

Environment: If someone does not have the equipment needed or place to work, they can’t do their job effectively.

The quickest way to identify in which area the problem lives is by asking NLP Meta Model Questions.

These questions help retrieve information that someone has in their head, but have not verbalised. 

When we speak we naturally edit what we say, and leave a lot of information out. To clarify a situation in business, we need to retrieve as much information quickly to be able to help.

Here is an example of this in action:

If someone says “I can’t do this?” the first thing you need to clarify is what specifically can’t they do. This seems like common sense, but often people assume they know what the other person is referring to and take action based on that assumption.

For this example, when someone says “I can’t do this” The first Meta Model question is “What specifically can’t you do?”

The answer is “I can’t do this report”

Now we need to find out the reason that they can’t do this report, and we do this by asking “What is stopping you?”

This is a very effective question to ask, because it makes people think before they answer.

So, let’s look at four possible answers:


Values Answer

“I can’t do this report, because when I do, it will affect the lives of many people in the organisation. This report is about how we will reduce the workforce and will result in redundancies.”


Beliefs Answer

“I have been writing reports for years, but now I have been promoted and my reports are going to the board. I am not confident in writing reports for the board as I am nervous in case I get things wrong”


Strategy Answer

“We have changed the software system, the template I used for years for writing reports is not available on the new system. I don’t know how to access our report template on the new system.”


Environment Answer

“My computer is not working. I have called IT support and am waiting for them to call me back”


By asking two questions “What specifically” and “What is stopping you?” when someone said “I can’t do this” we quickly identified where the problem lives.

When you identify that, it becomes much easier to come up with the right solution quickly.

So, the next time someone comes to you with a problem, stop and ask yourself “Do I know where this problem lives?”  If your answer is no is this technique to find out.


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