In my role as a coach, my primary job isn’t to give advice — it’s to ask questions to help people uncover their own thinking, perspectives, and assumptions. And of course, my questions change depending on the client and the issue (and probably what I ate for breakfast), but there’s one question in particular that I tend to ask a lot:
“What’s another way of looking at this?”
That question alerts my client to the fact that they are seeing their challenge or solution in one way – a way that often feels like it’s keeping them “stuck” – and that there are multiple ways to look at any issue. It also lays the foundation for using creative thinking for how we can get that problem solved. When we take a black & white approach to seeing a problem, we also take a black & white approach to tackling the problem – and unless we’re talking about black & white cookies, I’m interested in exploring more options. When we do that, the solutions that my clients generate tend to be more interesting, more motivating, and have longer-term “stickiness” than previous ones they may have considered.
Here are five new ways to think about your old problems that I use in coaching, in workshops, while facilitating retreats and in tackling my own challenges, and I’d love to hear your novel ideas, too.
- How can we improve our volunteer – professional partnerships?
- How can I reduce my stress at work?
- How can I communicate more compassionately with my children?
1) Do a reverse brainstorm.
E.g. How can we make our volunteer – professional partnerships worse? Then check to make sure you’re not already doing those things – and begin to implement the opposite of what came from your “negative” brainstorm.
2) Eliminate barriers of time and money, temporarily.
E.g. If time and money were unlimited, how would I reduce my stress at work? While you may not be able to take that year-long trip around the world, or quit your job altogether, you can bring your ideas down to earth and make them realistic, such as taking more vacations, or beginning to look for a new job if the stress cannot be reduced in your current position.
3) Interview an Expert (in Your Head)
E.g. What is “compassionate communication” according to Supernanny? According to your parents? According to Anne Sullivan (The Miracle Worker)? According to your favorite relative? According to… Come up with your own list and take into account your best guess of other experts’ opinions.
4) Take One Step Back
E.g. Picture yourself engaging in the most satisfying volunteer professional partnership imaginable. What happened right before you felt this level of contentment? What did you say or do? What did your partner say or do? And what happened right before that? And then right before that? Build the scenario backwards to see what steps you may be inclined to miss in real life.
5) Look through Four Lenses
E.g. Look at your workplace stress through a magnifying glass to bring one or more small details into focus. Then look through a microscope to see “invisible” factors that impact your stress level. Then look through a telescopeto see how workplace stress fits into the bigger picture of your life. Finally, look through a prism to see different facets of stress that you might not have thought about before. After viewing the problem through Four Lenses, you can begin to decide what to deal with first.
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