Problem solving and the Crucial Dialogue Model

Problem solving and the Crucial Dialogue Model

This morning I had a tweet conversation with David Ducheyne in which he stated that the Creative Interchange Process is the answer to many questions. Hallelujah, he’s right! To underline his statement this blog will treat the answer to the question “How do you solve complex problems?”

We at VOF LCCB use our Crucial Dialogue Model to solve complex problems, and this model is entirely based on the four characteristics of Creative Interchange and is thus an application of the Creative Interchange Process.


The Model is used starting in the Middle and then one goes through the Lemniscate the following way: Communication à Appreciation à Middle à Imagination à Transformation à Middle.

If after the ‘first round’ something still needs attention, the cycle is repeated.

Step one: Sensing the Problem

First of all, in order to solve a problem it should be sensed: someone in the organization senses that something is wrong, that there is probably a problem. A problem is defined as an unacceptable gap between what (the actual reality) is and what should be (the desired reality). If the gap is big enough the problem is sensed.

Any indicator, formal or informal, can be used to sense whether a problem exists. Some of these indicators are ‘hard’ ones: the number of accidents, high turnover or absenteeism, increasing customer complaints … Aside of these ‘hard’ measures, any sign of culture fixation may signal a significant problem: general apathy, extreme resistance, anxiety, deep frustrations, disruptive behavior. Once an indicator crosses the threshold of what is accepted, some members of the organization usually sense that a problem exists.

Denying the existence of a problem does not solve the problem. If it is really a problem and it is not addressed, the problem will grow as a cancer. The other side of this coin is that some members of the organization believe there is a problem, when in fact there is none. When an organization is too sensitive regarding fluctuations in indicators and therefor initiate problem solving efforts and ‘jumps to conclusion’, time and resources are wasted with bringing something in control that in fact is in control.

The question “Who’s responsible of sensing the organizations’ problems?” has a simple answer: Everybody. Therefor there should be trust and openness in the organization. The tools of the first phase of the crucial dialogue model can help to raise the levels of trust and openness. This first phase is in this ‘step plan’ step number two.

Step two: Defining the problem

Once somebody has sensed that a problem exists, the next step is to discover just what the problem is. Essentially the probable causes of the problem will define the problem, this in contrast to the symptoms. Symptoms are the results of the problem, for instance higher number of accidents, while the definition of the problem is the reason why these results took place. The objective of this step is to work backward from the symptom to determine what caused it.

Therefore, all facts, observations and objective data are gathered, in order to define correctly the problem. We have already mentioned that the basic conditions for this phase are Trust and Openness. What we’ve learned using the Creative Interchange Process and its application the Crucial Dialogue Model is that the use of the tools enhance the basic conditions. Indeed using the phase one behaviors: ‘Asking the crucial question’, ‘Advocacy and Inquiry’, use of Non-Verbal Communication and, most of all ‘Confirmed Paraphrasing’, will finally enhance Trust and Openness.

At the end of this step all facts, observations and objective data are filtered so that no interpretations or coloring of the fact took place. Then we are ready for the next step.

Step three: Appreciation of the Problem

With this we mean the second characteristic of the Creative Interchange Process: Appreciatively Understanding. We don’t just have to understand the facts; we also have to appreciate them. Here the mindset of the people in the problem solving group is extremely important. More often than not people assume that their view of the world (their frame of reference, specialty) defines the essence of the problem. The late Stephen Covey use to say: “The way you see the problem, is the problem”. Professionals wear blinders in order to become specialists and finally see only what they can see. This biasing effect is reinforced by the personal traits of the persons’ mindset and sometimes by the group itself (which puts pressure on the members to see the problem a certain way, a.k.a. ‘Group Think’).

Any problem appreciation arrived at through tunnel vision can result in an error in the understanding of the problem. We have to go out of our comfort zone, because that comfort zone is the assumption: ‘that’s the way it has always been addressed’, even if the problem has never been resolved.

If the Creative Interchange Process is not alive and kicking, everyone knows what everyone else will argue for or against on any giving topic, but practically nobody bothers to understand why the other has a different viewpoint, let alone how these different viewpoints can be synergized into a correct ‘appreciatively understanding’ and thus in a correct problem definition.

The basic conditions of this phase are Curiosity and a high level of tolerance for Ambiguity. Ambiguity comes from the viewpoints of the other participants, when those are very different from your own. One has to have a high level of tolerance for ambiguity in order to use the tools necessary to appreciatively understand the point of view of the other(s).

The behaviors to enhance our Curiosity and tolerance for Ambiguity are: ‘Asking questions’, ‘Finding plusses in the point of view of the other’, ‘Integrate the differences of the different point of views’ and the understanding of the respective ‘Mental Models’.

When we have finally understood the problem in an appreciative way we are ready for step four.

Step four: Accepting the Problem

Once the problem is being defined, it has to be accepted. The owner of the problem should raise and the other participants should accept their role as client to the owner, in order to propose possible solutions.
If this is not the case the problem is appreciatively understood and at the same time disregarded: ‘this is not MY problem’. Unless a problem owner is found and that those person can rely on people who will help him to resolve the problem, that problem will stay around and will do its devastating work.

So the problem has to be felt as ‘my/our problem’, and when the gap is consistent, the creative tension will pull the problem owner and the members of his problem solving team towards the ‘desired state’.  This leads us towards the next step.

Step five: Imagination of the Solutions to the problem

Imagination will generate different solutions to the defined and accepted problem. Where after the ‘problem owner’ select the best of them. All members of the problem solving team must use their imagination and experience to construct alternative solutions. They should stay aware and should not chose ‘old’ solutions of the problem, if it is a recurrent problem. Because those solutions did not solve the problem in the first place. The quote ‘If you’re doing what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got’ should be remembered during this stage.

During this step no ‘idea killers’ should be uttered (see my book ‘Cruciale dialogen’ pages 163-171 or ), neither should one ‘jump to conclusions’ too soon.  This is the step where synergy has to play a major role. ‘Either/or’ thinking has to be replaced by ‘both/and & different from’ thinking, thus real synergy. This synergy is at the root of Creative Interchange.

The basic conditions during this third phase ‘Creative Integrating’ are ‘Connecting’ and ‘Creativity’ and those conditions are enhanced by the use of the following tools: ‘Reframing’, ‘Use of Analogies’,  ‘Use of Metaphors’ and ‘4 plusses and A wish’.

One has to take the time to first discover – without any discussion – and afterwards analyze the different solutions before they dive into action. There is no need for knee-jerk response when Creative Interchange is at play. Once several solutions has been identified and analyzed, the problem owner has to choose the ones he prefers. This is his responsibility, since after all he is the one who is accountable (not the members of the problem solving group). Of course he informs those members why he has chosen those solutions.

Step six: Implementing the chosen solutions

Implementing the chosen solutions leads to transformation. In the Creative Interchange Process, this is called Continual Transformation.

First of all, never assume that a good solution will automatically be accepted and used. One has to foresee and address the obstacles, resistance and forces operation to keep things ‘the same’, in order to implement the solutions properly. Committing an implementing error will nullify the total effort of problem solving.

The conditions in this fourth phase ‘Continual Transformation’ are ‘Tenacity’ and ‘Interdependency’. The behaviors and tools that support those conditions are ‘Repetition and Evaluation’, ‘Feedback’ (Positive Reinforcement and Correction), ‘Dare to Change’ and ‘Process awareness’.

During the implementation phase one should stay awake and the Evaluation and Process Awareness will tell us if we stay on the right track. The real world can change that fast that the chosen set of solutions does not give salvation. Tenacity is needed, though no ‘Blind Tenacity’. If ‘Evaluation and Process Awareness’ show us that we will not reach the goal, we should Dare to Change the set of solutions and/or its implementation.

Anyway, finally we arrive at the ‘final’ step.

Step Seven: Evaluating Outcomes

Did the implemented set of solutions actually solve the problem? This evaluation is in itself an application of the whole Crucial Dialogue Model. And if the answer is ‘no’, we should be ready for another ride on the rollercoaster called the Crucial Dialogue Model based on the Creative Interchange Process! Continuing through this Lemniscate should resolve the initial problem and any emerging problems.

After having understood this way of solving problems, people understand that it is no longer acceptable to continue on their merry-go-round of impulsive ‘jump to conclusion’ and action that never solves the real problem. The Creative Interchange process and its application the Crucial Dialogue Model does!


2 gedachten over “Problem solving and the Crucial Dialogue Model”

  1. Dear JoHan, May be you remembered my husband Patrick ABADIE (he is on linkedyn). We met together in Lavera about 10 years ago and Patrick is very interested in your work but, unfortunately has lost your emailadress.
    If you could contact him it’s possible :

    I hope you join him. Thanks and kind regards

    1. Chère Patricia,

      Quel bonheur! Bien sûr, je me rappelle vivement vous et votre mari Patrick. J’ai toujours eu un contact, bien que professionnel, très humain avec le couple ABADIE. Patrick m’a aidé énormément aussi bien dans le domaine professionnel qu’humain.

      Je me rappelle vivement notre dernier rencontre, cette année il y a 11 ans. J’étais fort fatigué durant cette période et pourtant j’ai pu conclure la mission que Patrick m’avait confiée. En juillet je suis tombé dans une dépression trés profonde. Je me rappelle encore la bonne nouvelle du Niveau 8 le 8-8-2OO8, mais je n’ai plus capable de réagir à l’email me trouvant dans un hôpital suite à la fracture du dos (conséquence d’un chut, conséquence de la maladie, j’ai bien sûr fait l’arbre des causes). Une fois guéri complètement en 2010, je n’ai plus trouvé l’adresse de Patrick, et même mes recherches sur internet n’étaient pas couronnées de succes.

      Donc quel bonheur! J’écrirais Patrick demain!


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