The Art of Strengths Coaching

E is for Ease, Effectiveness And Excellence In Edgy Environments  

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to feel at ease, to be effective and deliver excellence. Sometimes it can be relatively simple to follow these principles and do your best to achieve success.

Sometimes it can be more difficult in certain environments. People can feel uneasy in situations that are edgy, emotional or exhausting. They can get thrown off-course if the atmosphere is competitive, judgemental or hostile.

The good news is that people can develop skills for being at ease in such situations. They can then aim to do their personal best, follow their principles and work to achieve their picture of success.

This article describes some techniques you can use to take these steps. Before then, however, it may be useful to clarify your own experience of managing such challenges.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you aimed to feel at ease and deliver excellence in an edgy environment? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have done this when going for an interview, managing a crisis, dealing with a conflict or being in a competitive situation. You may have been taking an exam, dealing with a micro-managing boss or knowing your performance will be judged by other people.

How did you aim to feel at ease in the situation? How did you prepare properly? How did you follow your principles? How did you do your personal best?

Looking back, what did you do right in the situation? What could you have done better and how? What would you do if you faced a similar situation in the future?

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 aimed to deliver excellence in an edgy environment. 

Describe the specific things you did to do your best to deliver excellence in the situation.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

Different people use different ways to feel at ease, do effective work and deliver excellence in edgy situations. The following sections look at some of the practical things they do to take these steps.

Ease

Great workers often feel at ease and yet fully alert when doing the activities in which they excel. They feel positively engaged and able to perform at their best.

The sprinter feels at ease and yet excited when competing in the Olympic Games. The crisis manager feels calm and confident that they can use their knowledge to solve a problem. The singer feels at home when commanding a stage and performing to a huge audience.

How can you feel at ease? The obvious route is to put yourself into situations where you feel in your element – at ease and yet able to excel. This can benefit both yourself and other people.

You may be in your element when writing an article, encouraging a person, teaching a class or doing a creative project. You may do so when fixing a technical problem, leading a team, performing on stage or doing another activity.

This approach is desirable but not always possible. Bearing this in mind, let’s explore some of the steps you can take to feel at ease in edgy environments. Here are some of the potential routes to consider.

Positive Realism

Great workers are often positive realists. They have a positive attitude but are also good at reading reality. They sometimes ask themselves questions under the following headings when approaching a piece of work.

Success

What is the challenge? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What will be the benefits – to all the various stakeholders – of achieving these results? What are the specific things that will be happening that will show I have achieved the picture of success?  

Seeing Reality

What is actually happening in the situation? What are the positive things? What are the potential challenges? How can I build on the positive things and find solutions to the challenges? What are the things I can and can’t control in the situation? How can I build on what I can control and manage what I can’t? 

Strategies For Success

What are the potential options for going forward? What are the pluses and minuses of each option? What is the attractiveness of each option on a scale 0-10? What are the other potential creative solutions? What is the strategy – or combination of strategies – I want to pursue? How can I build on the pluses and manage the minuses of pursuing this strategy? 

Bearing in mind what I can control, what are the chances of success on a scale 0-10? What can I do to improve the rating? What is the support required to deliver the goods? How can I encourage myself and other people on the journey? What are the key things I can do to give myself the greatest chance of success?

Personal Principles

Great workers focus on the principles they want to follow before settling on their action plan. Going through this centering process reminds them to be true to themselves and do what they believe in.

Different people will aim to follow different principles. They may aim to be positive, encourage people, pass on knowledge and help people to succeed. They may aim to create beauty, work for justice, build successful prototypes, leave a positive legacy or follow other principles.

People find that refocusing on their inner compass helps them to feel calmer and see things in perspective. Bearing this in mind, they may explore the following themes before finalising their action plan.

My Principles

 The principles I want to
follow in my life and work are:
 

* 

*

*

The specific things I can do to follow
these principles in the situation are:

*

* 

*

Preparing Properly

Great workers prepare properly before going into a situation. They often go through the following stages.

They clarify the real results to achieve and the strategies they can follow to achieve the picture of success; 

They rehearse follow these strategies and rehearse dealing with any potential challenges on the way towards achieving the picture of success;

They relax before rehearsing again and then being ready to click into action and work towards achieving the picture of success. 

Such workers aim to make things as predictable as possible. They also have a personal plan for buying time to think when faced by unpredictable or challenging events. This takes us to the next theme regarding being able to feel at ease.

Practical Tools

Great workers develop their own tools for feeling calm, controlled and centered when doing the work. Different people do this in different ways.

Some people do deep breathing. They do this before going on stage, taking a penalty in football, meeting a new client or going into their version of the arena. This can have an instant effect of helping them to feel centered.

Some people follow their chosen rituals for going into a state of flow. They may do this before writing, painting, running a mentoring session, giving a keynote speech or doing another activity. They then aim to flow, focus and finish.

Some people repeat their chosen mantra when doing the work – such as a script they keep saying to themselves. They find this helps them to keep following their principles, especially when times get tough.

Some people develop other techniques for centering. Don Greene enables people to take this step when helping performing artists, athletes and others to perform at their best. Here is an introduction to his work with musicians. You can discover more via the following link.

https://www.winningonstage.com/

Personal Best And Perspective

Great workers follow their principles and do their personal best. They perform superb work, but they cannot always guarantee the outcome. Bearing this in mind, they maintain a sense of perspective.

They believe their work is important but know there are more important things in life. They play their ‘A Game’ but also recognise where the work matters in the grand scheme of things.

Some people develop perspective by having a sense of gratitude. They count their blessings rather than their burdens. They realise that, even if things do not work out in the situation, they have much to be thankful for in life.

Some people develop perspective by serving something greater than themselves. They may aim to follow a spiritual faith, a vocation or a compelling mission. They aim to do their best but see themselves as being servants to the cause.

Some people develop perspective by looking at the big picture and seeing things in context. One person expressed this approach in the following way.

Looking at the great sweep of history, we are only here for a short time. Bearing this in mind, I try to do my best each day. Sometime I agonise over problems but then I ask myself:   

“Looking back on my life when I am older, how much will this issue really matter?”

As I have grown older, I realise there are virtually always solutions to problems. It is just a matter of finding these solutions and then producing the best outcomes for people.

Let’s return to your own life and work. How can you feel at ease when going into a potentially edgy situations?

You may follow your chosen rituals for being calm. You may aim to be a positive realist, prepare properly and follow your principles. You may do your personal best and yet also maintain a sense of perspective.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the specific things you can do to feel at ease in potentially edgy environments.

Effectiveness

Great workers aim to be effective. This involves clarifying what works and then following these strategies in an effective and efficient way. They then aim to do what works and deliver success.

Some people confuse efficiency with effectiveness. But the problem can be that people are being more efficient at following strategies that do not work.

Great workers often go through the following steps to clarify how to do effective work.

They clarify what works by studying success; 

They clarify how they can build on their strengths to deliver success;

They clarify the key strategies they can follow to deliver success. 

Different people take these steps in different ways. Some explore the following themes and questions when planning how to do effective work.

Great workers click into action and pursue their chosen strategies. Following their preferred rhythm, they follow good habits. They keep doing the right things in the right way to perform superb work.

Such workers keep doing reality checks and focusing on constant improvement. They keep asking: “What is working and how can I do more of these things? What can I do better and how?” They implement these ideas and move on to the next step.

Excellence

Great workers maintain high standards. They keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. They move through the stages of being effective to delivering excellence. Sometimes they do work that is extraordinary.

Such workers may sometimes get thrown off-course, however, by unexpected events or crises. This can certainly be the case in edgy environments. Different people choose different ways to manage such challenges. Some people choose to go through the following steps.

Pause

Good decision makers follow their chosen ritual when faced by a difficult challenge. They may stay calm and take the following steps: 

They gather information to see what is actually happening; 

They do something to manage the immediate situation – such as creating stability, stopping the haemorrhaging or calming people down; 

They buy time to think and decide on the strategy for going forwards.

Good decision makers often have a tried and trusted tool they use to buy time. This may be a ritual they follow to stay calm, a reassuring message they give to other people or another method. They sometimes use this as a holding mechanism while turning their attention towards finding a solution.

Sometimes the pause can be for a few seconds, sometimes it needs to be for longer. Kevin Cashman highlights the value of the latter approach in his book The Pause Principle. Below is a description of his book that can be found on his website. You can discover more via the following link.

The Pause Principle

We live and lead in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. But paradoxically, Kevin Cashman contends that leaders today must not merely act more quickly but pause more deeply.

THE PAUSE PRINCIPLE: Step Back to Lead Forward posits that pausing to gain fresh perspective and transcend immediacies is the key to leadership excellence in today’s complex, dynamic world. 

An antidote to our addiction to speed and transaction, pause is a conscious, intentional process of stepping back to reflect and deliberate, and then lead forward with greater clarity and impact.

Rather than merely doing more, we must learn to pause and to do things differently in order to grow, achieve and innovate.

In the book, Cashman provides the reader with real tools and practices to make pause a pragmatic practice of deep, reflective inquiry for focused problem-solving and for engendering creative insights. 

Daniel Forrester also encourages people to pause before making decisions. He explains this approach in his book Consider: Harnessing the power of reflective thinking in your organization.

Some decisions need to be made quickly, but there is often time to consider the options and improve the chances of success. Below is an excerpt from Daniel’s website that explores this theme. You can discover more via the following link.

http://danielforrester.com/

About Daniel

Daniel has worked with the top leaders of organizations from every facet of American life and commerce. 

He frames and facilitates moments of profound reflection where disruptive initiatives are imagined and then launched; or, he helps organizations question their relevancy, plan for the future and often re-frame the language and ideas that bolster why they exist.

Consider has been celebrated as a top non-fiction title impacting the lives and work habits of leaders within small and large organizations from around the world.

About The Book 

“STOP, THINK, AND DON’T DO SOMETHING STUPID!”

This is the warning Dr. Robert Bea drills into his Civil and Environmental Engineering students at the University of California in Berkeley.

Bea wants to dramatize what he terms the inevitable “oh shit” moments that present themselves-before an actual engineering calamity like the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster happens.

There’s an intangible and invisible marketplace within our lives today where the products traded are four fold: attention, distraction, data and meaning.

The stories and examples within Consider demonstrate that the best decisions, insights, ideas and outcomes result when we take sufficient time to think and reflect.

While technology allows us to act and react more quickly than ever before, we are taking increasingly less time to consider our decisions before we make them.

Reflection supplies an arsenal of ideas and solutions to the right problems. 

Forrester shows us that taking time and giving ourselves the mental space for reflection can mean the difference between total success and total failure.

Positive Solutions

Good decision makers aim to find positive solutions to challenges. Different people use different models for problem solving. Let’s look at two approaches.

The Three C Model

We explored some aspects of this approach earlier when looking at being a positive realist. It calls focusing on the following steps. 

Clarity: This involves clarifying the real results to achieve.  

Creativity: This involves exploring the possible choices, consequences and potential creative solutions.

Concrete Results: This involves committing to your chosen route and delivering concrete results.

Below is a link to an article that describes how you can use this model to help other people. You can also apply the approach to finding solutions in your own life and work.

Creative Problem Solving

The Win-Win Approach

This is an approach that you can use when acting as a mediator or when helping people to find solutions to potential conflicts. The following section looks at how you could use it in several challenging situations.

Imagine that you have been asked to help people to resolve differences between them. This could be a married couple that are experiencing difficulties, departments that are blaming each other or other kinds of warring parties.

Your aim will be to help people to, as far as possible, find a win-win solution. Win-lose creates ongoing problems, whilst lose-lose spells trouble for everybody. Let’s explore how it may be possible to aim for a win-win solution.

You can make sure the conditions are
in place for finding a win-win solution

Two conditions must be in place before it is possible to solve deep differences.

People must want to solve the conflict.

People must be prepared to work hard to find, as far as possible, win-wins.

Timing is everything. Many conflicts only get resolved when the parties are exhausted. For example, couples feel weary from fighting a divorce, terrorists became too old or too tired to fight, employers and strikers are exhausted after an industrial dispute.

People get tired of 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 people 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. Providing people want to solve the problem, it is then possible to move onto the next step.

You can clarify what each party
wants and build on common ground  

Start by clarifying what each person or each party wants. Focus on what people have in common, rather than the differences. Some may try to draw you into arguing about the differences, but return to the similarities.

When working with divorcing parents, for example, you will start by focusing on the shared aims they have in common. They may get into arguments, but both will probably say they want the best for their children.

You can then build on this shared aim. There will be lots of time later to explore the differences.

There are many models for helping people to build on or find common ground. One approach is to encourage people to focus on The Third Side. Here is a short introduction to that approach. You can discover more via the following link.

The Third Side

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 can be the greater goal, the picture of success or whatever.

The common goal may be, for example, the children’s welfare after a divorce, the team’s mission or the kind of world we want to pass on to future generations.

If you are a facilitator, you can work 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:

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

Is this something 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?

Mediators create a safe environment in which people feel at ease. They listen to what each person perceives as the challenge. They then aim to build a common agenda.

They keep bringing people back to the ‘What’ – the real results they want to achieve. This can be challenging, because people often want to get into arguing about the ‘How’.

The key is to keep returning to the ‘What’. This calls for following certain rules. It is important:

To show respect and recognise the authenticity of each person’s feelings because everybody must feel they have been heard;

To encourage people to look to the future rather than fight about the past;

To get people to be super specific about the desired outcome by asking: “What are the real results you want to achieve?”;

To encourage the parties to put the challenge in positive terms. For example: “How can we work together to achieve success?” Rather than: “Why can’t we stop fighting?”;

To build on the common ground, get some quick success and begin to build confidence.

You can help people to map out: a) The specific things each party wants; b) The shared results they want to achieve; c) The potential differences.

It is important to build on what people have in common. Help people to get some early successes, create confidence and build trust.

You can  keep working until you find,
as far as possible, win-win solutions

You can now move onto the differences. Start by establishing clarity. Looking at each difference in turn, clarify what each party wants.

Stay calm and invite people to use their creativity. When it comes to the sticking points, keep asking:

How can we find a win-win solution? 

Be patient. People are incredibly creative, so keep asking this question until they solve the problem. If appropriate, you can share possible ideas, but it is vital to show that you respect each person’s agenda.

If tempers rise, take a break and have a cooling off period. Return to the beginning and establish if people still want to solve the problem. If so, resume the exploration.

Keep going until they find, as far as possible, a win-win solution. Again, build on the good work by getting an early success. You can encourage people:

To set clear goals;

To make clear contracts about each person’s contribution;

To get concrete results.

Success breeds success and mutual confidence. People can then move onto the next topic where they want to find a win-win solution.

Sounds easy in theory: but it is obviously much harder in daily life. If people want to solve the problem, however, it is often possible to find creative solutions. The basic rules apply.

People will be more motivated to find positive solutions when they feel the pluses will outweigh the minuses;

People need to feel that they will get more pleasure and less pain in the future

People will then apply their creativity to find and implement positive solutions.

So how do painful problems get solved? There are several answers.

Some don’t, people go on fighting. Some do because people lose interest. They get tired, accept the differences or move-on with their lives. Some do because people work hard at solving the problem.

You can focus on situations that fall into the latter category. Equipping people to find win-win solutions can provide them with a tool for life.

Picture Of Success

Good workers use their preferred models for finding positive solutions. They also often get pleasure from pursuing the process on the way towards achieving the picture of success.

Chefs love the process of buying the ingredients, preparing them properly and serving a delicious meal. Designers love the process of doing a stimulating project and creating design that is simple, satisfying and successful.

Such workers love to follow their chosen rhythm and achieve their daily goals. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly highlights this approach in his book Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. Here he describes the process that a person can follow to set and reach their goals.

Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative individuals don’t have to be dragged out of bed; they are eager to start the day.

This is not because they are cheerful, enthusiastic types. Nor do they necessarily have something exciting to do. But they believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day, and they can’t wait to get started on it.

Most of us don’t feel our actions are that meaningful. Yet everyone can discover at least one thing every day that is worth waking up for.

It could be meeting a certain person, shopping for a special item, potting a plant, cleaning the office desk, writing a letter, trying on a new dress.

It is easier if each night before falling asleep, you review the next day and choose a particular task that, compared to the rest of the day, should be relatively interesting and exciting.  

Then next morning, open your eyes and visualise the chosen event – play it out briefly in your mind, like an inner videotape, until you can hardly wait to get dressed and get going. It does not matter if at first the goals are trivial and not that interesting.

The important thing is to take the easy first steps until you master the habit, and then slowly work up to more complex goals. Eventually most of the day should consist of tasks you look forward to, until you feel that getting up in the morning is a privilege, not a chore.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you may want to deliver excellence in a potentially edgy environment?

You may want to tackle a challenge, manage a crisis, turnaround a business or do another activity. You may want to do this in your role as a parent, educator, leader, counsellor or in another role.

How can you feel at ease in the situation? How can you prepare properly? How can you keep doing the basics? How can you find solutions to challenges? How can you deliver excellence? How can you add that touch of class?

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 deliver excellence in an edgy environment. 

Describe the specific things you can do to deliver excellence in the situation. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result.

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