The Art of Strengths Coaching

A is for The Advantage Of Seeing Things From Another Angle  

 

Some people gain an advantage by being able to see things from a different angle. Different people develop this ability in different ways.

People who are labelled as different relatively early in life may demonstrate this quality. They may be considered as introverted, highly sensitive, dyslexic, having synaesthesia or being slow learners at school.

Such people sometimes develop certain strategies to survive. These strategies may be different from those needed to succeed by going a conventional route. On the other hand, learning such skills can enable them to thrive in other fields.

Creative people do not subscribe to the cliché of ‘thinking outside the box’, because they do not actually see a box. They start from their destination and work backwards. Clarifying the real results they want to achieve, they then find creative ways to reach their goals.

Such people love to learn and gather lots of information. They study success in their chosen field and clarify what works. They then follow these principles in their own ways to achieve their picture of success.

There are many methods for seeing things from another angle. Let’s explore some of these approaches.

Asking ‘What If …’ Questions

Some people make creative breakthroughs by asking certain questions. These often involve asking: “What if …?” Here are some obvious examples.

What if we saw the challenge we face as an opportunity rather than as a problem? What could be the potential opportunities? How could we build on these opportunities and achieve success? 

What if we saw our smallness as a company as a strength when competing against bigger companies? What could we do to build on this strength? How could we use it to give great service to the clients and help them to achieve success? 

What if I wanted to listen to music while travelling? How could I do that easily rather than by carrying around my portable cassette player? How could I listen to music when I was walking? This was the challenge that Masaru Ibuka, Sony’s co-founder, gave to his colleagues. They came back with the first version of the Walkman.

What if we enabled people with autism to use this as a strength? This is approach taken by the Specialisterna Foundation that aims to create one million jobs globally for people with autism. Such people often have outstanding memories, a remarkable eye for detail and do repetitive tasks with enthusiasm. These skills can be valuable for companies that specialise in developing technology.  

http://specialisternefoundation.com/about/

What if we tried to solve conflicts between different parties by focusing on what they have in common? How could we begin by exploring what each of the parties wants? How could we build on the areas of agreement? How could we then build confidence by getting some quick successes? 

Looking back on your own life, can you think of a situation when you saw things from another angle? You may have done this when building on your strengths, tackling a challenge, dealing with a problem or whatever.

What did you do then to take this approach? You may have started by gathering lots of information, letting this incubate, taking time to reflect, asking certain kinds of questions or whatever.

What did you do then as a result seeing things from a different angle? How did you translate your findings into action? What happened as a result of taking these steps?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you saw things from another angle.

Describe the specific things you did to see things from another angle. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

Being Creative By Having
Positive Expectations

This is an approach I used when running a therapeutic community for troubled young people during the early 1970s. The prevailing method at the time was to put labels on such people, calling them maladjusted or mentally ill.

Therapy programmes also focused on young people’s weaknesses rather than their strengths. Bearing this in mind, it was useful to ask the following questions.

What if we treated the young people as if they were extremely intelligent and who could choose to be positive, take responsibility and achieve their life goals? 

What if we built on the young people’s strengths and gave them positive roles in which we asked them to take responsibility for running parts of the community?  

What if we asked the young people to make presentations to social work students at universities about the Dos and Don’ts for helping troubled young people? 

What if we did these things but, at the same time, made clear contracts about the guidelines people needed to follow to contribute to the community? 

What if we continually rewarded the positive behaviour that people demonstrated but also acted immediately if anybody broke the guidelines and therefore was choosing to leave the community?

Many of the young people responded to these expectations. They took responsibility and also developed positive roles when, for example, going to universities to describe how such young people could be helped.

At the same time, we were stone hard if anybody chose to break the rules. They left immediately.

Forty years after leaving the community one of the former residents contacted me. Now a Grandma, she explained what the community had meant to her and others. Here is an extract from what she wrote.

Looking back, the community showed there were people who could look after kids, value their opinions and not resort to abuse.

The community made us feel safe and we never betrayed that trust. Some newcomers tried to bring drugs into the house, but we said: ‘Don’t bring that stuff here. If you want to take drugs, leave the community.’

Sometimes we had fantastic talks. There would be 8 of us sitting in a bedroom till midnight, just sharing thoughts we had never discussed with anybody before.  

Every young person in the community had suffered problems. We encouraged each other to talk about the past, but didn’t allow each other to use it as an excuse for behaving badly.  

If I said, ‘My mother left me in the park when I was two,’ somebody else said: ‘I can top that. How can you use that bad experience to help others in the future?’

Suddenly I realised that I didn’t have to go on the path I was hurtling along, which would probably have led to drugs or prison. The people in the community believed in us and my feelings mattered.  

Someone listened when I was screaming. What could be more wonderful than that?

Nowadays I try to help other people by volunteering to work at the local hospice. But the thing I am most proud of is being a good parent to my children. 

Seeing Things From Another
Person’s Point Of View

Roger Fisher helped many people to find solutions to challenges. Known for his books on negotiation such as Getting To Yes, his obituary in the Economist described him as a lawyer, teacher and peacemaker.

His approach was different from that of many lawyers. Roger focused on creating alignment rather than seeing negotiation as an adversarial process. He believed the keys were for people:

To sit down together side by side.

To focus on the job to do, which was to find a solution.

To work together to solve the problem.

Roger believed it was important for people to build on what they had in common. It was also vital for the parties involved to show respect to each other as human beings. Wherever possible, it was important to separate the ‘problem’ from the people.

Providing you looked at what each of the people wanted, it was then often possible to solve the problem. The difficulty was that the solvable problem had often become complicated by the personal feelings – such as anger and disappointment – becoming wrapped in the problem.

When working with those who have been nominated to solve conflicts, for example, Roger believed it was important to say:

We have a shared concern here. Let’s work together. How do you see it?

Roger used his wisdom and experience to help people to make breakthroughs. One approach he used was to get people to see things from other people’s points of view. In the video below he describes how he did this with one client in California.

He asked the person to change chairs and then explain the challenging situation from the other person’s viewpoint. This was so effective that the person asked to get out of the chair because he felt uncomfortable experiencing things from the other side.

Seeing things from other people’s point of view can sometimes lead to making creative breakthroughs. They can also help to create an environment where it is possible to work towards finding win-win solutions.

Focusing On
The Third Side

William Ury, who co-authored Getting To Yes, has often used the Third Side approach can help people to resolve differences. You can discover more about his superb work in this area via the following link.

William Ury

The follow section explores another way of using the Third Side. It is an approach that has proved successful in helping people to make creative breakthroughs when working towards common goals. As negotiators sometimes say:

The key is to start by focusing on the areas of agreement, because this sets the tone and builds confidence. You can also aim to get some quick successes. 

People will then feel more able to move on to the areas of disagreement and find solutions. It you start with the areas of disagreement, you are less likely to achieve success.

Imagine the scene. Two parties are arguing about an issue. They each believe they are right and the other is wrong. This script is repeated by divorcing couples, departments fighting each other and nations going to war.

People can get into difficulties because they ‘sit opposite each other’ and fight for their own agendas. Each party says the equivalent of: “I am right,” or “Our side is right.” “You are wrong.” These are the First and Second Sides.

People are more likely to solve things if they can sit ‘side by side’ and look together towards a Third Side. This Third Side can be the greater goal, the mission, the company’s picture of success or whatever.

This is the greater ‘What’ and ‘Why’. People often get into arguments about the ‘How’, but it is important to focus on the higher purpose.

This purpose may be, for example, the children’s welfare after a divorce, the team’s mission, the company’s goals or the kind of world we want to pass on to future generations.

If you are a facilitator, you can sit side by side with the interested parties and encourage them to look together at a compelling Third Side. Providing you are clear on the agreed overall goals, you can then say things like the following.

These are the goals to achieve. This is the picture of success. These are the benefits of achieving the goals. 

Is this something that you want to work towards achieving? 

If so, how can you do your best to contribute to achieving the goals? How can you help other people to achieve the goals?

“That sounds simple in theory,” somebody may say. “But how does it work in practice?”

Before implementing this approach it is vital to understand that most conflicts only get solved when the following conditions are in place.

People must want to solve the conflict.

People must be prepared to work hard to – as far as possible – find ‘win-wins’.

Timing is everything. Many conflicts only get resolved when the parties are exhausted.

Couples feel weary from fighting a divorce, terrorists became too old or tired to fight, employers and strikers are exhausted after an industrial dispute.

People get fed-up with the negative energy. They are then more willing to sit down and find positive solutions.

Before getting involved in any conflict resolution, it is important to ask the following questions:

Are people ready to work together?

Do they really want to solve the problem? Remember, some people are addicted to conflict.

Are they prepared to co-operate to find – as far as possible – a ‘win-win’ solution?

How high is their motivation to do this on a scale 0 – 10? There needs to be at least a 7+ to produce success.

Are people ready to focus on how things can be better in the future?

This is crucial. Some people want to simply argue about the past and allocate blame. Whilst it may be vital to admit mistakes, the key is to focus on how to create a positive future.

There are many approaches to helping people to tackle challenges. One approach is to invite them to go beyond sitting opposite each other and becoming locked in the First and Second Sides.

You can invite people to sit alongside each other and see things from another angle. They can then work together to achieve a potential Third Side.

Focusing On The Benefits

This is another approach to seeing things from a different angle. You can start by clarifying the benefits of achieving a certain goal. Focusing on these benefits can then provide the motivation and also spark the imagination required to find ways to deliver those results.

Some people use this method by going through two stages. Step One is to tackle a challenge by asking: “What would be the benefits if …? Here are some examples.

What would be the benefits if …?

We could print 3D limbs in the desert … We could run cars on renewable energy … We could give even better service to customers at lower costs … We could enable young people to learn the 4Cs of The Twenty First Century Skills – Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication. 

We could get ambulance units to respond to emergencies in half the present time … We could enable airline passengers to get through security in half the time whilst also increasing safety standards … We could find a win-win solution to a specific conflict. 

Step Two is to focus on the benefits and try to find creative solutions to the specific challenge. It is to do this by continually asking:

How can we make this happen? 

Some people may immediately say that it is impossible, but human beings are incredibly inventive. People have solved many problems that at first seemed insuperable. They have used their talents to eradicate certain diseases, explore space and deal with other challenges.

People must have the will to solve the problem, however, before embarking on using many skills to find solutions. The key is to keep focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

Clarity

What would be the benefits – to all the various stakeholders – of finding a solution? What are the real results we want to achieve? What is the picture of success? 

Creativity

How can we do our best to achieve these results? What are the possible options for working towards achieving these results? What are the pluses and minuses of each option?

Concrete Results

Which is the route we want to follow towards achieving the results? How can we build on the pluses and minimise the minuses of pursuing this route? What can we do to give ourselves the greatest chances of success?

Using Flip Questions 

Some people use flip questions to help themselves and other people to see things from another angle. Such questions are designed to help themselves or other people to channel their energies in a positive direction. Here are some of the classic flip questions.

What is happening now? What do you want to happen instead? How can you do your best to make this happen?

Using flip questions does not necessarily produce instant solutions. They do help to establish clarity, however, and provide a basis to working towards the picture of success. Let’s look at some examples of flip questions.

A person may say:

I want to stop feeling stressed.

You may say:

What do you want to feel instead? Would you like to feel calm, at ease and in control? Or would you like to have some other feeling?  

After clarifying your goals, we can then look at how to do your best to get this feeling.

A person may say:

My partner behaves in a way that makes me feel bad.

You may say:

What does your partner actually do that creates this feeling? What would you like them to do instead?

We can look at how you would like them to behave and then, if appropriate, how you can do your best to encourage them to behave in this way.

If this does not work, you may then need to decide about the relationship.

A person may say:

I have taken over a team that is full of complainers. They seem to enjoy moaning and making others feel miserable.

You may say:

What is the real result you want to achieve? Do you want to spend time trying to motivate these people or do you want to build a successful team?

If the latter, what are the characteristics you want people in the team to demonstrate? How can you find these people and put them in the team?

We can look at the steps you can take to build a successful team or spend time trying to understand the moaners. What route do you want to take? 

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want to see things from a different angle? You may want to use such an approach after suffering a setback, tackling a challenge, acting as a trusted advisor to people or whatever.

Looking at the potential situation, how could you see it from a different angle? How could you explore the potential advantages in the situation? How could you ask questions that begin with ‘What if …?’ How could you use flip questions to channel your positive energy and find creative solutions?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things. 

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to see things from another angle. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to see things from another angle.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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