How To Look Beyond The Problem - If You Really Want To Help

28 May 2018

How To Look Beyond The Problem – If You Really Want To Help

We all process reality differently

You can probably recall incidences where you’ve experienced an event in a completely different way to someone else who was present. That’s because we all process reality differently. If you really want to help someone resolve a problem, it’s vital you don’t get sucked into their ‘version’ – or their ‘map’ of the problem. You need to look beyond the problem.

The Map is Not The Territory

beyond the problem

Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

The Map is Not The Territory is a presupposition that predates NLP and first appeared in print in a paper that Alfred Korzybski mentioned in his book, Science and Sanity way back in 1931. These days, it’s become a figure of speech and is no longer mainly associated with NLP. Briefly, a presupposition is an assumption or belief that guides us in how we perceive the world. Presuppositions aren’t truths but are useful ways of thinking about the world.

What does The Map is Not The Territory mean?

Your mind continually filters external reality to leave you with just a fragment of what was available in your original experience. Korzybski likened the ‘fragment’ to The Map and the initial exposure to The Territory.

I’ve already written a whole article, called The Map Is Not The Territory about this presupposition. I’m sure you’ll find it a useful read and adjunct to this post.

Let’s see how this presupposition might apply to helping someone resolve a problem

Many of our problems are caused, not by the issues themselves, but by the way we think about the issues (our map of the problem rather than the territory – or reality)

I’ve found that in my coaching and training others this is one of the most useful presuppositions to bear in mind. Failing to do so will often cause you to fall down the same rabbit hole as the person you’re trying to help. To help, we have to look beyond the problem.

As the helper, you shouldn’t believe your client’s story is ’true’

To do so means you become ineffectual. There aren’t many things that are true. ‘Truths’ are usually an individual’s perception of truth – which is their map. If you want to avoid going down the rabbit hole alongside your client, friend or colleague and you want to help them resolve their issue; it’s important not buy into the client’s map.

Remaining objective is a useful concept to bear in mind

What is most supportive is to have the flexibility and thinking skills to examine how and why they perceive the problem in the way they do. From this objective examination, you can help them change their perception in such a way that they can find a solution.

Albert Einstein stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So if you buy into a person’s map, you’re buying into their thinking, which is what caused them to experience their situation as a problem in the first place! So taking their perspective will probably also render you incapable of helping them resolve their issue.

The need for different thinking

However, if you recognise ‘The map is not the territory’ you can also assume that the ‘problem is not the problem’.

You then begin to think differently and to examine how the person is creating their problem. Generally, you’re not that interested in the ‘content’ of their issue because that’s not reality anyway – it’s just their story. What you are interested in is how they’re thinking about their issue. Because within that thinking process is the leverage to achieve a resolution. When they can think differently about the issue, they can often resolve it for themselves.

Stay out of the content!

During training courses, I find myself reminding participants to,

“stay out of the content” or “don’t buy in to the map” or “the problem is not the problem” or “look beyond the problem.”

It’s human nature to believe what others tell us and to want to help resolve any problems. But the minute we get hooked on someone’s story we lose our objectivity and can no longer successfully question or adopt a different perspective. We start going round and round in circles and getting closer and closer to that rabbit hole!

Once we remember that The Map is Not The Territory, we’re able to regain objectivity and use NLP skills to facilitate a person resolving their current issue. This facilitation also up-skills the person with the issue by giving them new and more flexible ways of thinking so that they can address future concerns more efficiently.

Using this knowledge yourself

Recognise that the way you see a problem is just your perception. Ask yourself some questions which may lead you to think about it differently. These questions might include:

  1. How is my thinking contributing to the problem?
  2. How would (think of another capable person) perceive this situation?
  3. How can I think about it more objectively?
  4. What am I missing that would cause me to think about the problem differently?
  5. What is beyond the problem?
Moving can help us perceive problems differently too

When we feel stuck, we are often stuck physically as well. Going for a walk, mowing the lawns or having a change of activity can all help. When we engage with something else, we free the conscious mind from worrying about the ‘problem’ and the resulting stuck-ness, and allow the unconscious mind to process it. When we revisit the issue later, we’ll often access valuable and surprising new insights to resolve it the issue.