Whether we are working within organisations, in healthcare, within our teams, coaching others, simply in our personal relationships or on our own business and personal development, we all have to put on our problem-solving hat sometimes.

And problem solving can take a lot of energy can’t it, especially when we think we have solved the problem, only to be hit by further hurdles, obstacles, ‘what ifs’ and ‘yeh buts’?

Very often this is because we have not spent the time really framing the problem, really digging deep to find out exactly what the problem is and, instead, have moved directly to the solution.

Sometimes, simply asking ‘is there a better problem to solve?’ can be incredibly effective.

For example, let’s look at the problem that many organisations have of spending too much time in meetings.


Just looking at the presenting problem itself, we could jump to multiple solutions (I’m sure you have tried at least one of these!).

So we try these and still they don’t work.

Are there better problems to solve?

Spending a little bit of time to consider the emotional results of the problem can help identify a better problem to solve. For example too much time in meetings can produce frustration, stress, overwhelm etc. so perhaps some better problems to solve would be:

  • The meetings are not productive enough
  • The meetings do not result in actions that are implemented
  • The meetings are not enjoyable
  • Not everyone’s voice is heard in the meeting

Looking at these problems and brainstorming the potential solutions may result in more effective strategies that produce better results.

In fact, what would it be like if you took the problem as ‘the meetings are not enjoyable’ and looked at how you could make them more enjoyable, firstly finding out from people within the organisation what would be the components that would make up an enjoyable meeting?

Chances are the results could well be that making the meetings more enjoyable could have a positive impact on the other problem statements.

Or even (if we want to chunk up) we may define the problem statement as:

How can we protect the mental and emotional well-being of each other?

That doesn’t mean that the original problem is not a problem, the point of framing and reframing the problem is to see if there is a better problem to solve. It is rare that a single root problem exists, there are usually multiple layers, multiple causes, and multiple ways of looking at the problem.

Getting underneath the surface

This also works from a personal perspective. For example let’s say that you have the problem, that you mention to a friend, of ‘I need to lose weight’. Chances are that the friend will jump into a number of potential solutions to this problem and start giving you advice such as:

Either that, or they will try and convince you that the problem doesn’t exist with such as ‘but you are fine as you are!’ or even put your problem to one of their own with such as ‘well if you need to lose weight, what does that say about me?!’

Within NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) the work of author, psychotherapist, and family therapist Virginia Satir is modelled to create a way of being able to dig down and subsequently frame the problem. The Meta Model’s purpose is to recover lost information from a person’s communication. Once a person has formed their internal representation of an experience, they can represent it externally through language.  They often do this by simplifying as much as possible, thereby changing the information before presenting it through the words they use.  They achieve this by deletion, distortion and generalisation, the result being that the words that come out of our mouth are the ‘Surface structure’.

Asking good questions

So let’s take the example of needing to lose weight above. Utilising Meta Model and other powerful questions you could ask yourself:

  • How specifically do you know that your weight is a problem?
  • When does not losing weight become a problem for you?
  • When don’t you have this problem?
  • What has been the difference when you have previously lost weight?
  • So, you need to lose weight, according to whom?
  • What kind of lose weight do you feel you need to do?
  • Who or what are you comparing yourself to?
  • What kind of need is that need?
  • What would be the impact if you did lose weight?
  • What would be the impact if you didn’t lose weight?
  • What is currently stopping you?
  • What is really important to you about losing weight?


You should also be aware that ‘losing weight’ is an away from motivator (moving away from the problem). If you have been concentrating your thoughts on the away from and still not changed your behaviours, it can often help to think about a towards motivator such as gain health, reach a certain weight, fit into a certain size clothes.

Asking yourself these type of questions can help you find a better problem to solve. Maybe the better problem would be one of these?:

  • How can I feel healthier?
  • How can I have more energy?
  • I want to lose weight (notice the difference between ‘need to’ and ‘want to’)
  • How can I get the support I need?
  • I want to have fun exercising, how can I achieve that?
  • I want to love myself as me
  • What do I need to stay motivated?

Or maybe it is something else?


Ok so you have found the better problem, now what?

I will tell you more in my next article!

In the meantime, if you want to know more about NLP itself, feel free to visit www.beyondnlptraining.com and complete the contact us page.

If you are a health professional and want to find out how you can take a new approach to your consulting, improve your relationships, your own motivation, and your patient’s outcomes, visit www.aligned-care.com