The Energy Efficient Way to Problem Solving

2 May 2012

The Energy Efficient Way to Problem Solving

 What’s your problem solving technique?

Ragz and I met an overseas visitor who joined us on our walk. We were accompanied by a fantail, our gorgeous little native bird, easily recognisable by its tail which is, erm, fan-shaped!

Fantail- The Energy Efficient way to problem solving

The tourist was fascinated by the fantail’s energetic flying antics and commented that it seemed chaotic, haphazard and disorganised. Then added, “Hmm I have some friends like that! They flit about all over the place!”

Some people have a similar approach to problem-solving

If you don’t have a proper problem solving method, it’s easy to waste time and energy going round and round in circles, or to make a decision you’ll soon regret. But what if you had a kind of compass for resolving problems or making decisions? Something simple that you could look at that would highlight what the problem really is and help you determine which way to go?

In NLP, we use the Logical Levels Model* as this compass for change.
Logical Levels

I’ll explain the ‘level’s’ briefly and then show how you can use the model to help you solve problems or make decisions.

The ‘levels’ are not necessarily hierarchical but they do become more abstract as they move up the diagram. Generally, changing something at a more abstract level would initiate change on the other levels.

On the bottom of the pyramid is environment

Your environment may consist of the room or external environment you’re in, where you live or work, the level of light and noise, your clothing, the people you work with etc.

The second level is Behaviour.

This is what you do – your actions. Specific behaviours might be crossing your legs, giving feedback, losing your temper, smiling or jumping up and down. You can often change a behaviour by deciding to do so – and then practising a new behaviour.

The third level is Capability or competency.

Capabilities guide and give direction to your behavioural actions. Capabilities are the resources you have by way of skills, qualities or abilities such as; visionary thinking, being a good listener, ability to solve problems, ability to convey complex information in a way that’s easily understood etc.

Generally, you can see, hear and/or feel these three bottom levels and because of this you’re most aware of them.

The Fourth level is Values and Beliefs

Values and beliefs are the principles you use to make decisions, and the measures you use to evaluate the usefulness of those decisions. They are generally just outside conscious awareness but, nonetheless, they affect you deeply.

Next we have Mission/Identity

Mission/Identity consolidates the whole system of beliefs and values, capabilities and behaviours into a sense of self. Your sense of identity is often incorporated into the roles you have in your life. It answers the question, “Who am I?” The majority of people would answer this question by describing a role they have; “I’m a Mum/Dad, I’m a production manager/ teacher/ coach etc.” But in fact, who you are – your sense of mission or identity – is much bigger than any individual role. It’s who you are a fundamental, core level. For most people this ‘bigger you’ is outside conscious awareness.

The top of the pyramid is called Vision or Purpose

It’s even more abstract that the other levels and connects you with something that is beyond yourself. It could represent your connection with your family/whanau, your sense of community, your faith, your world, what/who else is important to you. Some people might also think of this as their legacy.

As with many things in NLP, the language you use helps determine what logical level is being referred to:
If I say, “My writing contributes to people understanding each other.” That is a statement of purpose.
If I say, “I am a writer,” this is a statement of my mission or identity.
If I say, “I can write.” This is a statement of my belief about my capabilities
If I say, “I write.” This is a statement about my behaviour or what I do.

Addressing problems and decisions

A problem occurring on one level often needs to be addressed at a more abstract level. This is a really important point and one that’s often overlooked. But remember you’re only likely to be conscious of the bottom three levels.

Here’s a real case study

A coaching client had had 3 jobs in a year. He was very worried by his own inability to stay in one job, even though they had all been highly paid and seemed ideal at the time he’d accepted them.

Using the Logical Levels model we discovered that he liked the work he was doing in each job (behaviour), he enjoyed using his skills to best advantage (capabilities) and he liked the physical environment in which he worked (environment). So obviously the problem must be higher up the Logical Levels.

After identifying the clients work values, it became obvious that the problem existed at this level(Values and Beliefs). In each of the three companies my client had worked, the leaders behaved in ways that were at odds with the values of my client, and, in one case, the stated values of the company!

What was happening was the equivalent of the boss abusing staff, when the company value proclaimed, “We love and trust our people.” Actions will always speak louder than words. After our session, my client had a comprehensive understanding of his values and left determined to ensure his values were going to be met at the next job he accepted.

Addressing an issue at the level at which it was created is less effective than tackling it from a higher logical level.

The above case study is evidence of this.

Here’s how an issue might be resolved at a higher logical level:

Female Team Member (FTM): “I don’t like the idea of having to sell our services to our internal customers.”

Often, this kind of issue would result in the woman being sent on a training course to improve her sales skills (capability). However, given the woman’s language, “I don’t like the idea…” It would appear that the issue is not related to either the woman’s ability to sell (capability) or to her behaviour (being able to sell) but to her beliefs and values about selling.

Identifying her beliefs and values about selling and reframing these would probably be more effective than giving her more sales training.

Here’s how it might be resolved from the logical level of values and beliefs:

“What do you think about the service we offer to our internal customers?”

FTM: “I think we provide a good service.”

“So you think our service is good?”

FTM:“Yes, but I feel people don’t appreciate what we do. Our department is treated as a cost centre, rather than that we add value. I often feel our customers just want us to do a ‘quick fix’ because they don’t want to pay for our service.”

(Values: feeling appreciated and being recognised.)

“I guess it’s important to you that you are appreciated and that what you do is recognised as adding value?”

FTM:“Yes. But if I try to persuade them, I start feeling as if I’m a snake oil salesman because I feel I’m trying to sell something. They (snake oil salesmen) always seem greasy and dishonest, and you feel you can’t trust them. I get worried that they won’t like me.” (Core values: honesty, trust, maintaining relationships.)

“It’s important to maintain good relationships with your customers, that’s for sure, as well as knowing you’re being honest and trustworthy.”

At this point it’s useful to change the meaning of persuading/selling by putting it in a different frame or reframing it:

“Have you ever bought something from someone or been influenced by someone you trusted and who was honest in the way they dealt with you?”

FTM:“Hmm…(thinking) yes, I decided to take out a savings plan last year. A friend of mine recommended it because, as the kids are getting older she thought it would be useful to pay for their education. It’s working quite well and it means the kids shouldn’t have to take out student loans if they want to go to university.”

“So you still liked and trusted her even though she’d sold you something?”

FTM:“Yes, she is a good friend.”

“And you valued and appreciated her advice?”


“And she was honest?”

FTM:“Yes, absolutely!” (Pause)

“So your friend persuaded you to buy something that is a cost and yet you could clearly see the long-term benefits of what you’d bought. You’re still friends with her, and in fact you appreciate and value what she did for you because she was honest and trustworthy. Is that correct?”

FTM:“I hadn’t thought about it like that before. So what you’re saying is that I need to think about how what I do adds value for our customers so that I know what I’m ‘selling’?”

Do you know how you add value?”

FTM:“Yes, there are lots of ways; I save them downtime, I show them ways of doing things quicker, I help them organise their work better, I get them out of their mess when they’ve stuffed up! Hmm… when I think about it like that it seems different now. I just need to remind them about how I help and support them. Maybe I felt they weren’t respecting me because I wasn’t respecting myself!”

This problem is resolved by helping the woman reassess her beliefs and values about influencing/selling and demonstrating how she could be true to her own values (honesty and trustworthiness) and begin to feel appreciated and valued in the process.

Decision-Making Using Logical Levels

If you need to make a decision to make you could check:

  1. How will this decision affect my environment? Will I have to move things around, change the people around me etc?
  2. Will I have to change how I do things when I’ve made this decision? What will I have to do differently? (behaviour)
  3. Do I have the capabilities to carry out the decision? (Or do I need more training or new skills?)
  4. How does this decision fit with my values and beliefs in this area?
  5. Does the decision fit with how I think of myself as a person, with my sense of who I am?
  6. How does it relate to my purpose? How does it affect the other systems of which I’m a part? (Family, community, workgroups, business, ecosystem etc)
Energy Conservation

Use this model for problem solving and decision making and you’ll conserve your energy and stop yourself flitting about in circles like a fantail. As I explained to the tourist, the fantail is not as chaotic, haphazard and disorganised as you might think. It is simply feeding on the insects disturbed as people walk.

You have no such excuse!

*Logical Levels were inspired by the work of Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist (1972). Robert Dilts has been one of the foremost developers, authors and trainers of NLP since 1975 and he identified six levels of learning and change.

What do you want to do now?