The Practice & Art of Thinking

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Tools for Problem Solving – Listening to the data

When we want to solve problems, we need to find out what we are about to do and, to achieve this, we need to ‘listen’ before we take action. This will take us to the data.

To ‘listen’ means to be on the ‘outside’ and by this I mean we need to suspend all forms of judgement. To be objective without any form of preconceived ideas is difficult.

Image by LOR

Image by LOR

We need to have empathy and imagine, as vividly as possible, the data we are collecting in whichever form it might be (text, video, speech, audio, visual etc.). We must try to enter into the teller’s (so to speak) experience as much as possible – imaginatively, respectfully and non-judgementally – before we make an assessment, evaluate and argue. We must collect the data – hard to do but possible.

Without this stage of truly getting to understand what the issues are, not what we think they are, we are not able to solve the root cause of the problem.

The scientific method is the foundation of good problem solving and, for it to work, we need to ‘listen’ to the data. We need to make sure the data is not distorted or contaminated in any way. Our personal worldviews tend to play tricks on the data and we need to be very mindful and aware of this. After all, ‘listening’ is the basic rule of fairness in any conversation.

To be a good listener is very important but, unfortunately, a rare trait. Listening is an act of mental unselfishness, if done correctly. We just need to be aware of how we listen and catch ourselves when we start to make assumptions and draw conclusions while we listen.

Listening does not contradict asking questions and being critical. These are parts of the same thing – honesty.

This brings us to the second stage of collecting of data – to ask critical questions. This does not mean being aggressive, nasty or unpleasant – it simply means making sure the data is not distorted and making sure you have understood the data for what it is, rather than what meaning you might have superimposed onto it and assumptions you might have inadvertently created.

Image source unknown.

Image source unknown.

This active inquiry process is known as logic. This happens after you have collected the data (with an open mind).

Basic logic requires us to demand three things of any argument:
• Clear definitions of terms;
• True data (premises); and
• Logic consistent proofs.

These rules of logic can be applied in any circumstances and to any topic.
No discipline has a special type of logic – logic is logic.

In the process of solving a problem, what we are doing is developing a theory that might explain the problem situation – this then becomes the ‘problem narrative’. We then test the theory by seeing how much it can explain and how robust it is. The theory has to explain the weak and strong points.

Remember – when collecting data about the situation in which you are wanting to make an intervention (like solving a problem) you need to ‘listen’ to the data and make sure you do not contaminate it with personal worldviews

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The Visual Information about YOU

Communication researchers have shown that within a fraction of a second of meeting someone, even before individuals open their mouths, people have already started to decide about who you are. Fair or not – it is what happens.

Within 7 seconds they even start to decide if they trust and like you. If they cannot decide within that time frame, they then spend the next 30 seconds assessing you and trying to measure you up and deciding if you are worth their time.

Image - source unknown.

Image – source unknown.

First impressions are based on visual queues and information we transmit; clothing, handshake, eye contact, posture and personal grooming.

Many studies have been done on this issue at places such as UCLA and Sonoma State University. I do not really have to list the research, as we do it all the time; yes, even you – subconsciously or not. The research shows that 55% of the information received by others is non-verbal and is mostly transmitted by facial expression and body language. Yet, we all either do nothing about this or fail to accept this phenomenon. We might say it is ridiculous and be offended that intelligent people do it – making assumptions and even judgements about you and me.

I know the image below is of cats, but we do not argue that cats are visually communicating with us – we do the same only more subtly sometimes.

So – what were those lessons we received from our mothers? After all, we are all social animals; we like to be liked and want to be accepted by others.

  • Smile (a genuine friendly warm, sincere, non-forced smile). The type that shines through the eyes. It actually draws people to you.
  • Making eye contact (not doing this is saying … I have no confidence, I do not want to be here, I do not like you etc. – true or not?). Please do not stare.
  • Good posture (this reflects self-confidence and energy – people who feel good tend to carry themselves well).
  • Clothing – you design the look you want that tells everyone who you are, what social group you belong to and what you think of yourself. Clothing is massively important. It is a very important reflection of YOU and you are the one that is the designer of the look and information symbolized within the look.
  • Personal grooming – again – you are the decider of what you want people to think of you.

Looking at these very simple criteria, it actually makes sense. We are the ones who decide what we want people to think of us. We use visual thinking to inform people. They are not making inaccurate decisions about us, we are the ones who decide what people see.

Image from INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2009

Image from INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2009

Have we lost the art of creating signs and symbols of ourselves?