June 6, 2007

Leapfrogging over the problem

We often seem to assume that saying what we don't want automatically implies what we do want. But this is not the case. Here is an example:

GREG: We need your help because we have conflict in our management team.
COACH: I would be glad to help. How is the conflict bothering you now?
GREG: It is terrible! It is keeping us from discussing important organizational issues and from making necessary decisions. In the organization our lack of unity and decision making power is even beginning to cause rumors. This is beginning to undermine our credibility!
COACH: Is that so? Well, then I can imagine you want things to change!
GREG: Exactly, I want things to change badly!
COACH: I understand. How would you like things to be?
GREG: Well, I want the conflict to disappear, of course!
COACH: Sounds like a good thing! And what will be different in the team when the conflict will have disappeared?
GREG: What will be different? (Four seconds of silence). That is an interesting question.... Let me think…. (While thinking, slowly, a smile appears on his face). Well, we would get along with each other well.
COACH: Aha, and what will be possible, when you will be able to get along well?
GREG: We will be able to talk about the important issues without fighting. .............
COACH: Great! What else?
GREG: And we will be able to make timely decisions... We will be able to meet our deadlines once again. People will start talking more positively about the management team again.

Notice what happens in this brief interaction. At first, the coach acknowledges the problem and helps the client to specify how the conflict is hindering the team. While describing how the current situation is, both client and coach become more aware of how it is a problem and why change is needed. Next, the coach helps the client to start defining how he wants things to be different. He does this in an interesting way, which is frequently employed in solution-focused change. By asking ‘And what will be different in the team when the conflict will have disappeared?’ he invites the client to leapfrog over the problem to the desired outcomes (I got this term from Henden (2003): Team Remotivation). When at first, the client defines the goal in negative terms ("Well, I want the conflict to disappear, of course!") the coach helps the client again to describe the desired situation in positive terms. At first, the client describes the goal in rather abstract terms ("We would get along with each other well."). The coach then helps client to define the desired success in more specific terms.

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