It is very easy to ‘get caught up in the noise’. That is — sometimes, the details overshadow the core- or- the root of why you are doing something in the first place. When you can get to the root of a problem, magic happens.

A bit of back story:

In my day-to-day work, there are many conversations. Several projects are in varying states of completion and I am part of a team of people with a very strong focus on creating the best customer experience possible.

I am one of two UX designers working in a team who are juggling a mixture of priorities. Some of these will overlap and make a week quite hectic, whereas other times, they’re perfectly laid out — when one portion of a project is on hold, another with its unique challenges can be solved.

Needless to say — my colleague and I are very passionate about what we do and the people around us are as well. In most cases, everyone at the table has an opinion to voice with experiences that back-up their concerns and preferences.

So when we come to the table to look through mockups, wireframes, or interactive prototypes, differences of opinion are the steak and potatoes of each meeting. Rather than arguments turning into raised voices and hurt feelings, egos are kept in check and rational conversation and problem solving occurs. How? Every person in these meetings shares the same central mission. Because of this shared mission, the conditions are purposefully set so that egos don’t get in the way of productive and lively discussions.

… that’s weird, right?

I have a feeling that a lot of people would struggle in this environment. They live and breathe in an emotional state and are great at using others’ emotional states to their advantage, but I digress.

This is such a great way to work

… and …

it forces you to learn a new set of skills.

So imagine this: You go into a meeting and rather than having to try and control the ‘normal’ emotional roller coaster in meetings just to have a productive conversation, you are able to feel comfortable about voicing your thoughts, your experiences — your gut instincts too, and you are heard an what you say is taken into serious consideration. You, in turn are given a gift: You listen with the same interest as the others gave you and as a result are able to hear other people’s experiences, are able to learn from them, and you are able to create something better and more well-informed than before.

In this free-talking, free-flowing-dialog environment, it could be very easy to get lost in the sea of human curiosity. Because of this risk, there is a very important skill that I am gaining frequent 1st-hand experience with:

The ability to identify the root of the challenge or discussion.

This is an incredible thing. It has the power to maintain a conversation’s direction. It helps to empower and align all members in a meeting and as a result, new ideas are free to be hatched by others on the team. Ideas which might never see the light of day in any other environment.

Whether you are in a team like mine or not, I have a firm belief that getting to the root of a challenge can have similar effects on the success of any conversation.

It’s like magic. Try it!

Practical use advice below

For work-related problem solving (a.k.a. when I get passionate while feeling resistant to alternative feedback):
When you’re stuck and unsure, try pulling back a moment and ask yourself “What problem am I trying to solve?” and the followup “Why am I trying to solve for that?” with an addition of “Is there a different route I can take to solve the same problem or to completely remove the problem entirely?”

For conversations (tripping over your words a bit?):
What is driving this need to dance around with your words? Stating the root reason can slash through misconceptions and miscommunications. It is surprisingly simple and an absolute relief to do!

When talking with your kids ( and they think all of the adults are overreacting)
Stating “it’s not about you doing x, y, z — those things are just like pennies. Something to notice, but not really that important. It’s the root of what you did, not the things involved.” seems like a magical bullet to having a 2-way conversation rather than the kid shutting the adults out.