The Art of Strengths Coaching

S is for Clarifying The Script You Want To Follow In A Challenging Situation

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Looking back, can you think of a time when you clarified the script you wanted to follow in a challenging situation? This may have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have been going for an interview, having a difficult conversation or ending a relationship. You may have been giving a person bad news, explaining redundancies to employees or suggesting a positive way forward to a difficult person.

What did you do to prepare properly? How did you clarify what you could control in the situation? How did you plan to stay calm when meeting the other parties that were involved?

Bearing in mind what you could control, how did you clarify the real results you wanted to achieve? How did you clarify the picture of success? How did you clarify the key strategies you could follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success?

How did you translate these strategies into the key messages you wanted to give in the situation? How did you translate these messages into a script you wanted to follow? How did you plan to give these messages in a way that, as far as possible, people could understand and accept?

How did you rehearse the conversation? How did you plan to follow the script in a natural rather than robotic way? How did you prepare for events that could knock you off track? How did you prepare to, if necessary, return to the key messages you wanted to give?

How did you relax before going into the situation? How did you set the right tone for the conversation? How did you give the messages in a positive but clear way? How did you, if appropriate, encourage others in the conversation?

How did you show you were listening? How did you buy time, reflect and find solutions to any difficulties? How did you return to the key messages? How did you end the conversation in, as far as possible, a positive way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to look back on your personal or professional life and do the following things.

Describe a specific situation when you clarified your script and, as far as possible, was able to follow it successfully.

Describe the specific things you did to clarify your script and follow it successfully.

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

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Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where it would be helpful to clarify your script before having a conversation?

This could be in your personal or professional life. You may want to move on from a difficult relationship, deal with a challenge at work, give positive suggestions to a troublesome person or whatever.

Such an approach can be used in many situations. Let’s explore one example.

Clarifying your script for answering
caring enquiries during a difficult time

Several years ago I mentored somebody whose partner was suffering from a severe illness. As could be expected, both were experiencing an emotional roller coaster.

The ups and downs could be triggered by innocuous events. The person explained this in the following way.

“My partner is ill, which is difficult in itself. But one of the hardest parts is answering questions about their illness.

“People ring up and, though they are well meaning, it takes ages to answer their questions. I don’t want to be rude, but it can be very exhausting.

“The phone calls start with them expressing sympathy. But sometimes the roles get reversed and I end up giving them therapy.”

Can you recall a time when this has happened for you? You may have suffered a bereavement, lost a job, experienced an illness or whatever.

Part of you wanted to be open with people, but it was tiring repeating details. Certainly you may want to talk about the issues with kindred spirits, but other enquiries may be more invasive.

How to deal with such conversations? One approach is to tell people you don’t want to talk about it. Another approach to create a script you can follow. You stick to giving certain key messages to people. This is to be polite, but also manage your energy.

This was the route taken by the person mentioned above. Looking ahead, they began crafting their script by doing the following exercise.

Answering Caring Enquiries

The three key messages I want to give
people when they ask about the situation are:

*

*

*

Such scripts often contain the following elements. The person starts by thanking the person for asking. They then focus on the following themes.

They give a factual update regarding what is happening.

They may describe how the experience is helping them to see what is important in life or is bringing people together.

They stay in charge of the conversation and close the topic by saying: “I will let you know if there are any changes. How are you?”

The person mentioned above covered these themes in the script they crafted. They wrote down the key messages and followed these when answering the phone or having conversations with people who asked about the situation. Here are the main messages they gave.

Thank you for asking.

X (my partner) has decided to embark on a course of treatment. The stats say the chances of success are fairly high, but you never know with these things.

We are finding that, in some ways, it is making us stronger. We are appreciating the simple things in life and plan to go on several special trips.

The course is x months long and we will let you know of any further developments. How are you?

The person later reported that doing this exercise enabled them to deal with caring enquiries. It also helped them to focus on what they really valued in life. They said:

“Having a script meant my partner and I did not have to rethink every time somebody phoned. We just returned to the themes.

“Putting it together also helped to clarify our philosophy for dealing with the illness. We revisited our priorities and spent time enjoying our relationship.

“Sometimes we elaborated on the script with different people. The key thing it did, however, was to provide a compass we could return to during conversations.”

Imagine that you want to craft a script when preparing to tackle a challenging situation. Here are some steps you may wish to consider.

Clarify what is happening
in the present situation

The first thing to do is to take a reality check. It is to clarify what is actually happening in the situation. Let’s explore how this can work in action.

Karen is somebody who took this route. She had been charged with leading a project in her company. This involved introducing a new approach to customer service in countries across Europe.

She started by clarifying the goal and the deadline. Whilst Karen did not have direct line authority, her boss promised his backing. She believed in the project and felt it would bring benefits to the company.

At first the project went well. Travelling across Europe, the department heads listened politely and said they would help. Karen returned home to put together an implementation plan. After several months of hard work, however, she began to hit problems.

The project was not included in people’s Key Performance Indicators, so there was little backing on the ground. Karen seemed to spend all her life in meetings. It was tough trying to coax people into implementing their part of the project.

Six months of flying around and holding dispiriting meetings took its toll. Karen occasionally saw her boss, but he was having difficulty managing the changing agendas coming from his leaders. It was hard to get time in his diary.

Being a professional, Karen continued doing everything possible to make the project work. Choosing not to be a victim, however, she took charge of shaping her future. She began considering options outside the company.

Before doing so, she clarified her perfect role. Taking a blank piece of paper, Karen described the three things she wanted in a role that would enable her to do satisfying work. She produced the following role description and also rated her present role in relation to these factors.

My Perfect Role
would be one where:

I am leading a pioneering project that I find satisfying and that helps the employer to achieve success. 

Present Rating: 6/10

I have the authority required – such as working with motivated people – to deliver the goods and achieve success. 

Present Rating: 3/10

I can do satisfying work, produce success stories and have at least an 8/10 chance of delivering the project that will help the employer to achieve success.

Present Rating: 3/10

Bearing in mind these factors, Karen began exploring where she might be able to craft or find such a role in the future.

A previous boss had already contacted her to see if she would join her in their latest venture. She had been polite, but said she had a job to finish. It might now be time to explore the possibilities of working for her previous boss in the new company.

Karen also decided to have one final go at setting up the present project to succeed. This would involve getting time in her boss’s diary and making clear contracts about increasing the project’s chances of success.

Before having this meeting, however, it would be vital to prepare properly. Karen went through the following stages. You would go through these in your own way before preparing for a conversation.

Clarify the things you can control in
the situation and the picture of success

Positive realists aim to control the controllables. They take this approach whether building a relationship, encouraging a troubled person, shaping their future life or whatever.

This is also the first step when preparing for a difficult conversation. It is vital to clarify what you can and can’t control in the situation. You can then build on what you can control and manage what you can’t.

Let’s return to the project Karen was leading for her company. She completed the following lists regarding the controllables in the situation.

Can Control

I can control my attitude and professionalism.

I can control that I do my best to make clear contracts about setting up the project to succeed.

I can control that I will do my best to encourage the positive people who want to make the project work.

I can be proactive and make contact with customers who might want to help us prototype the new way of working, though I will need permission to take this step.  

Can’t Control

I can’t control my boss or the fact that he is distracted by the changing agendas within the company.

I can’t control whether people that I have no authority over give their backing to the project.

I can’t control the reality that people are confused by the changing priorities and uncertainty in the company.

Bearing in mind these factors, Karen clarified how to build on what she could control and manage what you couldn’t. She also clarified how to do her best to make clear contracts with her boss.

Before meeting him, however, she clarified the real results she wanted to achieve from the conversation. Such preparation was crucial.

Looking at your own work, for example, you may take a similar approach when preparing to see a customer. Looking ahead, you may do the following exercise before the meeting.

Meeting A Customer: The Picture of Success

The actual things I want the person to be saying,
thinking, feeling and then doing after our meeting are:

*

*

*

The specific things I can do to do my best to
ensure the person is doing these things are:

*

*

*

Karen applied this approach to the conversation with her boss. Looking ahead, she wanted him to be saying the following things after the meeting.

I understand where we are with the project and what is required to ensure the project is delivered successfully. 

I am prepared to give my full backing to Karen and ensure the project is delivered successfully.  

I will take the following steps: a) … b) … c) … to ensure the project is backed fully and, if necessary, keep repeating them until the project is delivered successfully.

There was no guarantee this would happen, so she needed to create a back up plan. If things went wrong, Karen would buy time to explore other opportunities whilst also continuing to do professional work on the project. Nevertheless, she wanted to have one final go at improving the project’s chances of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Can you think of a situation when you may want to use this approach to prepare for a conversation?

This could be in your personal or professional life. You may want to encourage a friend, move on from a relationship, have a difficult conversation with an employee, make clear contracts with your company or whatever.

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 clarify your script for having a conversation and then follow it to do your best to achieve success.

Describe the specific things you can control in the overall situation and in the conversation. 

Describe the specific results you want to achieve in the conversation – the picture of success.

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Clarify the key strategies you can follow in
the situation to achieve the picture of success

Good communicators clarify the results they want to achieve from a conversation. They then focus on how they can do their best to achieve this picture of success.

Karen took this step in her own way. Looking ahead, she recalled the specific things she would like her boss to be saying after the conversation.

I understand where we are with the project and what is required to ensure the project is delivered successfully.

I am prepared to give my full backing to Karen and ensure the project is delivered successfully.

I will take the following steps: a) … b) … c) … to ensure the project is backed fully and, if necessary, keep repeating them until the project is delivered successfully.

Bearing in mind these goals, Karen did the following exercise. This focused on how she could give herself the greatest chance of achieving success.

The Picture of Success 

The key strategies I can follow to increase the chances of
achieving the desired results in the conversation are these. 

I can start by showing my boss that I understand the world from their point of view. I can then go through the following steps during the conversation.

1) I can revisit the original goals for the project and repeat that I want to deliver these successfully.

2) I can explain where we are with the project at the moment and the potential ways forward. These include the following options.

Option A 

To continue to try to coax those departments and countries who are not co-operating to implement the new approach.

The pluses of this approach are:  

The minuses of this approach are: 

Option B

To again explain the business case for implementing the new approach and for you – the boss – to request that the departments and countries back the approach fully.

The pluses of this approach are:

The minuses of this approach are: 

Option C

To work with the positive people in the business who want to implement the approach, to build prototypes and to produce success stories.

The next step would be to invite other people to follow the principles that worked and produce their success stories by a certain date. 

The pluses of this approach are:

The minuses of this approach are:

I can also ask my boss if there are any other potential routes for going forwards.

3) I can ask my boss which route – or combination of routes – he would like us to follow to deliver the project.

It may be, of course, that he wants time to reflect on the options. I am happy to wait for a few days and then go with the proposed way forwards.

Let’s return to your own life and work. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific situation in the future when you may want to clarify your script for having a conversation and then follow it to do your best to achieve success. 

Describe the key strategies you can follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success – the real results you want to achieve – in the conversation.

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Clarify the script you want to follow in the situation and the
specific things you
can do to achieve the picture of success

Different people take this step in different ways. Some simply write the headlines they want to cover. These act as a road map they can follow and return to if things go off track in the conversation.

Some people write down the actual words they want to say. They may do this when preparing for a difficult conversation in which the words they use can have implications. They need to set the right tone and feel comfortable with the wording.

Karen chose the latter route. She planned to say the following things in the session with her boss.

Thank you for making the time to see me, because I realise there is a lot going on in the company at the moment.  

I would like to bring you up to date with what is happening on the project. There have been quite a few successes and, as you can guess, there are a few challenges.

After covering these things, I would like to get your views on the possible ways forward. I can then implement these to deliver success.  

Looking at the company’s overall strategy, one aspect was to introduce a new approach to customer service. The benefits of doing this would be to create a platform for the company’s future success. 

Bearing this in mind, let me bring you up to date with the progress we are making and then outline the possible ways forward. Is that okay?

The successes so far have been the following:

*

* 

* 

These things are heartening. There are some challenges, however, if we are to deliver the original goals.  

Some people have implemented the new approach to working with customers. Some other departments and countries, however, need to implement the approach more quickly if we are to deliver success to the company.

Here are some of the challenges we face if we are to deliver the project successfully.

The challenges we face at the
moment include the following:

* 

* 

* 

There are various routes we can follow for going forwards and I can take you through some of the options. Before I do that, however, is there anything else you want to know about the progress so far?

Looking ahead, here are some of the options for moving forwards, together with the possible consequences of each option. There may, of course, be other options. This is something I would like to get your views about.

Here are the potential ways forward. These are not necessarily in order of preference.

Option A

To continue to try to coax those departments and countries who are not co-operating to implement the new approach.

The pluses of this approach are:  

The minuses of this approach are:

Option B

To again explain the business case for implementing the new approach and to request that the departments and countries back the approach fully. This message would probably have to come from you.

The pluses of this approach are:

The minuses of this approach are:

Option C

To work with the positive people in the business that are happy to implement the approach, to build prototypes and to produce success stories.  

The next step would be to invite other people to follow the principles that worked and produce their success stories by a certain date.

The pluses of this approach are:

The minuses of this approach are: 

As I mentioned earlier, there may be more options. So I would like your views on if there are any other possible routes we can follow. If appropriate, we could also take time to reflect on the possible ways forward. 

At some point, however, I would like to know which route you think it would be good to follow. I do, of course, have a view and am happy to share this if you wish.  

Karen rehearsed how to start the meeting in a positive way and position what she wanted to say. She aimed to reassure her boss that she could deliver the results. This probably called for pursuing either option B or C, but she would give him chance to reflect.

Karen anticipated how to deal with any questions and her boss’s reactions. These might range from him not having enough time to talk, telling her to continue as before or pulling the plug on the project.

She also rehearsed how to buy time if her boss threw a curve ball or wanted her to go with Option A. Karen did not see any future in continuing to try to coax unmotivated departments, but she needed to reflect on her own career options.

Karen also clarified the clear contracts to make the end of the meeting. Depending on the chosen route, she would make clear agreements on the following themes.

The Customer Service Project. The specific goals
we want to achieve with the project by … are:

* 

*

*

The specific benefits – for all the various
stakeholders – of achieving these goals will be:

*

* 

*

Karen’s responsibilities in working
towards achieving these goals are:

*

*

* 

The various Departments and Countries responsibilities
in working towards achieving these goals are:

*

*

*

Progress Reports. The specific things people can do to proactively keep
others informed about their progress towards delivering the goals are:

* 

* 

*

The meeting went as Karen expected. Her boss was polite but a bit distracted, because the company was about to make more changes. Nevertheless, he understood that Karen needed more clarity and support.

He preferred to go with Option C, which involved building several prototypes. These would show best practice and help to build a platform for future success.

Karen emerged with his backing to focus on three countries. He would call the country heads and politely, but firmly, request their support. She would then work with some of their people to deliver the success stories.

During the next six months Karen produced three success stories that embodied the new approach to customer service. The company remained in turmoil, however, which led to many employees exploring other avenues. Karen left to join her former boss and run pioneering projects in their company.

Let’s return to the situation in which you may want to clarify your script for having a conversation. You may want to take this approach when encouraging a friend, ending a relationship, talking with your employer, suggesting a positive way forward to a difficult person or whatever.

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

Describe the specific situation in the future when you may want to clarify your script for having a conversation and then follow it to do your best to achieve success. 

Describe the key messages you want to give in the situation. 

Describe the specific things you can do to give these messages in a way that increases the chances of success in the situation.  

Describe the specific things you can do to buy time and, if appropriate, pursue your back up plan if it is not possible to achieve the picture of success.

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