Briefly Describe the Problem Then Focus Intensely on Solutions

Feeling ‘Listened to’

Talking about problems allows us to hear the problem outside of our own inner dialogue. Simply by finding the precise words to explain our problems to another person can cause a shift in perceptions. Some people seek coaching based on a perception that it is a lot like counselling. Of course, there are cross-overs in terms of some of the basic assumptions of Carl Rogers’s Person-Centred Therapy. Rogers talks about creating the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions for change’ and recognizes clients as the experts in their own lives. The therapeutic relationship is also paramount. It’s unusual to be another human being and feel totally ‘listened to’. It rarely happens in everyday life.

General description of the past and a detailed picture of the future

Now some clients, encouraged by the therapeutic relationship, feel the encouraged to explain in the finest details the issues that brought them to seek counselling. The idea is that greater understanding helps to facilitate change. In coaching it’s not necessary to know how you got here in the minutest of detail. As part of my coaching training I underwent the coaching process as a client. I quickly realized that I favoured the convoluted explanation to ensure that the coach understood every minute detail of the problem, how it had arisen and so on and on and on. The coach asked me ‘Where is this taking us?’ The question stopped me in my tracks. Early in my coaching practice I had experienced clients who felt the need to give me the fullest possible picture. This simple principle of ‘where is this taking us’ helped me to shape the sessions to better focuses them on the future. My own version of the intervention is ‘I’m getting a very clear picture of what you want to move away from. I’m less clear about what you’d like to move towards. Perhaps you could fill in a few of those details’. There is a fine line between hearing the client and getting bogged down in so much detail that all avenues of possible solutions are closed off.

If there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching

Coaching is ultimately about goals. There’s a mantra often quoted that ‘if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching’. It’s been a long recognized research finding that all forms of therapy have pretty much the same outcomes. It’s called the equivalence paradox. However I would argue that some therapeutic models lend themselves as better bases for coaching than do others. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a problem-focused type therapy that emphases changes in the ways we perceive the world and the way we act in it. Gestalt therapy is focused on the ‘here-and-now’ which has parallels with coaching. However with psychodynamic approach with its emphasis on unconscious processes the common factors are not so clear.  A former psychodynamic practitioner colleague proposed a model of coaching called ‘Cognitive-Analytic Coaching’ as an alternative to CBT. Apart from being a somewhat unfortunate acronym, the strong emphasis on analysis seems at odds with basic principles of coaching. There might be lots of thinking and analysing but the action element appears underplayed. It’s almost an afterthought.

Meaningful and practical steps to change

TV therapy-based programmes invariably pay homage to cod-psychoanalysis and often parents or teachers get the blame for everything. However it’s not necessarily the case that this insight will inspire any move forward in life. It might help to reinforce helplessness and become the justification for things to stay as they are. As well as digging over the past such programmes are also heavy on the symbolism. It just so happens that symbolic gestures look good on camera. However it’s unlikely that the programme producer asks the ‘client’ if standing at the seashore, letting balloons go at sunset chanting to the great baloon god is personally meaningful. Such TV-friendly dispays create the illusion of doing something without actually doing anything at all. Unfortunately, some ‘inspirational’ models of coaching follow a more ‘poetic’ approach to personal development. However, evidence-based coaching has a stronger emphasis on meaningful empowerment and practicalities. In my practice, any kind of exercise is based on client insights and always meaningful to them. If a coach tries to cajoles you in to trying ‘hocus pocus nonsense’ against your better judgement, then find another coach. Bullshit never takes precedence over meaningfulness.

Following the 80:20 principle

Coaching is often about making small significant insights rather than waiting for ultimate mysteries in life to be revealed. In my practice I operate the 80:20 principle to structure coaching sessions. This is in line with the CBT approach and the Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) approach. So, you would describe the problem or issue for 20% of the session and in the remaining 80% we would explore solutions. It follows the principle that the more we talk about the problem, the bigger it gets. Giving more time to solutions (even tiny little ones) can create a shift and begin building confidence and motivation right away. Solution-Focused Brief Coaching is about creating a different mindset. The coaching relationship begins with the coaching helping you to explore things from different perspectives. As the coaching process continues, you the client, get to learn the solution-focused perspective so that it becomes an automatic alternative to the problem-oriented mindset. Part of this mindset is to consider the smallest shifts and smallest actions to tackle the issue rather then trying to tackle the whole problem head on. Often a seemingly insignificant change leads to a significant change in perception.

Links:

Other coaching and confidence blog posts from Gary Wood

Advertisements

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions & ‘Yes’ to Positive Lasting Change

New Year, new you? No chance, no change?

Every New Year our attention is drawn to personal change, which we translate, into intention in the form of resolutions. So why do they fizzle out? What’s the problem? Yes, we  start with good intention and take action, but the problem is that, more often than not, we simply don’t have a well-thought out action plan. We need a well-defined target, not a fuzzy vague ‘over there somewhere’. New Year’s resolutions simply don’t work for a number of very good reasons. So, let’s begin by looking at six common problems with them, and how to put them right:

Negativity
‘Losing’, ‘giving up’, ‘cutting out’ and ‘cutting down’ all have negative connotations. However, we tend to respond better to positively stated goals, such as ‘aiming for a target weight’ or ‘increasing healthy foods‘ or ‘increasing variety in foods‘ and ‘boosting energy levels‘.

Vagueness
Classic New Year’s Resolutions are always rather vague and wishy washy. So, it’s difficult to reach a target that’s not clearly defined.  So once, you’ve got your positively worded direction, it’s best to get specific. What exactly are you going to do to hit your target. What are the behaviours? Target specific actions, such as drinking seven glasses of water and going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes each time.

Immeasurable
In order to measure your progress you need to make your goals measurable. Ask yourself lots of ‘how’ questions, such as ‘how much’, ‘how many’, and how often’. Just doing something ‘more often’ is vague and immeasurable. Also build up to your target so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Build steady progress into your routine, and where possible break larger goals down into smaller milestones.

Unachievable
Each year we psych ourselves up for the new year. It feels so now or never.   Of course we need goals that are going to stretch us or else we’d soon get bored. However, it’s pointless setting impossible goals. Our goals need to be achievable. Are your goals within your capabilities?

Unrealistic
It’s common to tackle too many things at once or over-plan every minute of your day. Be realistic and pick one thing at a time to work on. That way you build your confidence.

Open-ended (never-ending)
If you goal is your ‘preferred end state’ then you need a ‘preferred end date’. Putting a time scale on it helps with motivation. It provided a sense of ‘urgency’ about the goal.

The SMARTER approach to New Year’s Resolutions is to set SMARTER goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • Enthusiastically (positively) worded
  • Regularly-reviewed

Goal-setting is not a one shot deal. It’s a process. If you find your progress is slower than expected or you find yourself not hitting those milestones when expected, then GO BACK AND REVIEW! It’s only failure if you fail to use the feedback. Have a look to see if your goals really are realistic and achievable for your person circumstances. If you need to, make changes are try again. Don’t wait until next New Year’s day. . . get right back to it straight away.

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s resolutions and using SMARTER as well as other goal-setting tools and techniques (such as PAR and GO-FLOW) means that instead of vague statements of wishful thinking, you will have concrete, action plans to channel your resources. So make your final resolution to ditch resolutions and start setting goals. . . not just once a year when you’re caught up in the New Year fever. . .but any time you want to take charge and make changes. . . positive lasting change!

[Adapted from Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!‘]

Links:


Can only an expert deal with a problem?

According to a man I worked with in a former life, in an insurance company,  the definition of an expert is:

  • ‘X’ is the unknown quantity, and
  • A ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure

Oh how we laughed. . . the first time! No so, for what seemed like the million repeats.

Repetition is at the heart Laurie Anderson’s song ‘Only an expert can deal with a problem’. So I guess an expert may just be someone who spends a lifetime saying the same things over and over again. When a bit of research was carried out on Oprah viewers, one of most popular definitions of ‘expert’ was ‘some one who has written a book’. This didn’t necessarily mean a well-researched, evidence-based book, but more a personal account of  their problems.

It’s also worth pointing out that when we see or hear an expert on TV or in the media that the selection process is not so stringent as one might think. I once asked a radio producer why he favoured one particular self-appointed media analysist (with a religious emphasis) over the official regulating bodies such as Ofcom or the BBFC? The answer came: because they are easier to get hold off and more willing to talk on local radio. So the expert may not be the best one for the job,  just the closest and most amenable.

(There’s also a lot of truth in Anderson’s song, that only an expert knows how to create a problem too).

Evidence-based psychology has so much to say about the human endeavour but is often not see so ‘sexy’ as pop psychology and ‘experts’ without any ethical code, who can say and do just about anything that makes good TV. It’s wise to be wary of ‘experts’  (X-spurts) who invent syndromes that can be cured by buying a particular product, or experts that claim that they can ‘reprogram’ your mind. Also, beware of experts who claim they can read a celebrities mind just be looking an an intrusive pap-snap. They can’t. Body language needs to be viewed in context and if they are a member of The British Psychological Society (BPS), they are not supposed to be doing it anyway.

Each of us has the answers to our own problems, and it sometimes need a qualified professional to provide the strategies to draw those solutions out of us.  If you decide you need an expert to assist you, make sure you check out their credentials. Do they actually have any qualifications? Where did they get them? If someone has a PhD from some obscure, Internet-based organization, it might not be worth a damn. For instance, in Britain, all PhD theses have to be filed with The British Library. However, that is only from accredited Universities. Also, beware of how experts refer to themselves. A qualification in NLP or hypnotherapy no more entitles them to call them psychologists as owning a steak knife entitles anyone to call themselves a surgeon. (There’s little or no evidence that NLP lives up to the bold claims of it’s more enthusiastic practitioners).

The upshot is, if you need an expert to help you solve your problems, make sure your experts have the qualifications, the tools and the skills for the job, not that they are just the first in the phone book or the closest to you. Don’t be afraid to check them out and ask questions. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, then move on!

Here’s a video of Laurie Anderson performing the hypnotic ‘Only An Expert’ (sung in English with French subtitles):