Defining the problem in conflict resolution and collaboration matters

Magnifying glass in hand trying to read something

Often defining the problem and root cause properly is the most significant element of working the problem to an appropriate solution. Sometimes a more thoughtful question needs to be asked. Type 1 decision should be used with complex issues, but concern needs to address biased based thinking on how the problem is framed. Many times, a solution is obvious, and you can use Type 2 decision making to make an appropriate solution. The commentary that follows introduces Type 1 and Type 2 decision making types, provides links to commentary on bias, and provides tools to help you define the problem and discover the root cause.


Type 1 and 2 decision making


From an article from Organizational Physics by Lex Sisney the author offers the following

The main point about Type 1 vs. Type 2 decisions is that you shouldn’t treat all decisions the same way. A Type 1 decision is a big, strategic decision that it’s hard to turn back from. It’s like a one-way door without a window. It’s hard to predict what happens on the other side of the door and you can’t go back once you’ve crossed the threshold. A Type 2 decision, on the other hand, is an everyday operating decision. It’s like a regular two-way door with a window. You can look through the window and see what’s happening on the other side. And if it turns out that it was a bad decision, the consequences aren’t disastrous. You can go back pretty easily and correct it.

Clearly Type 2 does not require a lot of thought like driving to work. There may have been days you drove to work and don’t even remember the commute. However, a deeper dive is needed for more complex problems in order to explore the root cause with Type 1 decision making. However, be aware of your biases. The following offers some ideas to address your own biases in decision making.


How does bias fit in?


In conflict resolution and collaboration, we all come with our own experiences that shape our decision making. My experiences are not your experiences. Your experiences are not my experiences. In a recent blog I addressed bias, implicit bias and how to overcome implicit bias in negotiations and mediations.  The same holds true for any Type 1 decisions. Addressing your bias upfront by identifying your bias and how it may be impacting your decision making can help you as you work to define the problem and root causes. Onto defining the problem.


Defining the problem with Type 1 decisions


With complex issues it is important to recognize the steps necessary in order in order to initiate appropriate solutions.

The book, The Collaboration Effect offers ten steps to interest based solutions.  These are:

  1. Define the problem or issue and take on only one problem/issue at a time
  2. Listen to understand the emotion and facts associated with the issue
  3. Identify and clarify interests
  4. Generate options
  5. Determine the impacts of options (economic, social, and environmental)
  6. Evaluate the impacts of the options
  7. Select a solution
  8. Consider implementing the solution or return to an earlier step
  9. Consider testing the solution before implementing the solution
  10. Consider BATNA and WATNA if no solution can be found

BATNA is the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement

WATNA is the Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement

Clearly the first step of defining the problem is the key. Many skip this step and define a problem to fit a solution they would like to see implemented. This can work, but in general may not and will likely be suboptimal because with complex issues often several points of view and additional data need to be considered. So, what can help you define the problem and get to the root of the problem up front? What tools can help you define the problem?


Tools to help define the problem


I must confess in an earlier career I was an engineer, engineering study manager (feasibility), and an engineering project manager (actually build things). From there I took on a new position as an engineer/financial analyst/ and business appraiser as an expert in court, and then became the manager growing the team from 9 to 21 technical expert witnesses. These skills changed over from a greater emphasis from analytical techniques to an emphasis on emotional intelligence, listening intelligence, and conversational intelligence to enhance soft skills or what today are referred to as critical skills. However, this is a revisit of those technical skills to help in defining the problem and the root cause. Both skill sets are needed.

Enter insights from Creately with an article on Root Cause Analysis Guide for Efficient Business Problem-Solving. This article introduces you to tools that may work for you. When you click on this link you will be introduced to root cause analysis and a number of tools. Simply provide your email to download 25 powerful tools to help you. If you have a background in project management or engineering management many of these tools may be familiar to you, but you may see some surprises too. I was impressed.

The basics of root cause analysis are

  1. Define the problem
  2. Determine the factors that caused the problem
  3. Identify the root cause(s)
  4. Decide corrective actions
  5. Review and evaluate 

Creately suggests 5 Whys Analysis and a need to gather a team of people who are affected by the problem. To help you with this they provide a template in the article. A number of tools are presented to explore cause and effect, Pareto Chart, Scatter Diagram, Fault Tree Analysis, and more related tools.

Creately also offers a free online tool entitled  Creatively – Business Diagram Look Book – 25 examples. This publication presents information on SWOT analysis, flow diagrams, Determining Impacts and Evaluating Impacts with Affinity Diagram, a prioritization  matrix, fishbone (cause and effect) , Gantt charts, organization chart, Entity-relationship diagram (ER) and many more tools.  As a former engineer in a previous life, I have used most of these at one time or another,  and I appreciate them being presented in such a simple and easy to use to way to help anyone to define the problem better as offered by Creately. Check them out.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]