November 28, 2008

Overemphasizing the importance of strengths?

Recently some doubts about the claims being made in positive psychology about the strengths perspective have come up. A great thing about positive psychology focus is that it tries to gain understanding and knowledge of how individuals and institutions thrive and overcome difficulties. But does this necessarily imply we should focus on 'playing to your strengths'? This might be too individualistic and static. Perhaps we'd do well to move into a more interactive, dynamic and situationalist perspective. The research by Professor Anders Ericsson and many others (which has become a large body of research over many years) is interesting and a good example of positive psychology. It deemphasizes the role of talents, not from a dogmatic point of view by simple by looking at empirical research. The researchers did not set out too disprove the role of talent. Actually, they were quite amazed they could not find evidence that talent played a major role. Here is one example

Avoiding automaticity

"Frequently when we see great performers doing something they do, it strikes us that they've practiced for so long and done it so many times, they can just do it automatically. But in fact, what they have achieved is the ability to avoid doing it automatically."
The same may be applicable for solution-focused top coaches. It is not that they are working, as it were, on automatic pilot while they are coaching. Instead, they are often very aware of everything they do. They consciously choose interventions, they consciously apply systematic self-corrections, they are very aware of what the client is saying.

November 25, 2008

The interval technique

Solution-focused professionals often use a lot of questions. Many of those can be answered right away. But sometimes solution-focused therapist, coaches, managers or teacher ask questions that cannot readily be answered. This can be the case when the other person does not yet have a clear idea about what the answer might be and needs some time to think about that. And it can also happen that someone does not know whether he is willing to answer the question. In both situations solution-focused practitioners may use a certain type of question that allows their conversation partner some extra time to think, both about the answer and about their own position. Here are a few examples of such questions:

November 23, 2008

Five characteristics of deliberate practice

The book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin, which I am now reading, is even more interesting than I thought it would be. Anyone interested in Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers: The Story of Success should have a look at this book, too. This book (roughly) deals with the same topic and does so in a way which is at least as interesting. The book not only debugs the talent myth, the believe that talent is a dominant factor in high achievement (which Gladwell has done too in several publications). It also operationalizes the concept of deliberate practice. This concept was introduced by Anders Ericsson, a leading researcher in the field of expertise development. Colvin explains that deliberate practice can be described by these five characteristics:

November 22, 2008

Does grief recovery need stages?

Question: Is it true that most people most of the time go through these stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance?

Here is the answer of Russell P. Friedmann (executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute): "No study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss… No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships."

More about this topic, here: Stage Fright

November 12, 2008

Managers' implicit assumptions about personnel

Someone, whose research I find interesting is Peter Heslin. In the article Managers' implicit assumptions about personnel, for instance, he applies Carol Dweck's growth mindset idea to management. The article explains how a growth-mindset intervention can lead managers to relinquish their fixed mindset and subsequently provide more accurate performance appraisals and helpful employee coaching. Interestingly, at the end of the article, he mentions some questions for further research among which this question: "Finally, research could usefully explore potential downsides of an extreme growth mindset, such as continued fervent investment by managers in developing poor-performing employees who show virtually no discernible performance improvement over time."

November 11, 2008

Sent to the principal!

Right before class starts, one of Mary's pupils, Shanna, is still in the hallway. Mary walks into the hallway to fetch her. In the hallway, she notices that another teacher is angry with Shanna. When he sees Mary he says: "Her behavior is very impertinent. This is unacceptable! Will you see to it that she´ll be sent to the principal?" Then, he angrily closed the classroom door behind him. As Mary and Shanna walk back to the classroom she thinks for a second what would be the best way of responding to this situation. Which solution-focused question could she ask?

Then, she says to Shanna: "We'll start our class now. I would like to see you when class is over. In the meantime I would like you to think about how you can keep this situation from getting worse for you than it already is". Shanna protests: "But it was his fault that I said that to him!" Mary repeats calmly: "We'll start class now. After class, I would like hear from you what you could do to keep this situation from getting worse for you than it already is".

November 8, 2008

A powerful sentence

This week, I have written a post about language (Improving language - improving life) and a post about Barrack Obama (Before Obama said 'yes we can!'). Here is a post about both.
I came across an article by Rick Horowitz: Support I Have Yet to Earn": Obama's Victory Speech. Horowitz is impressed by this sentence from Obama's victory speech: "And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too."
I am impressed, too. This sentence is an interesting example of the power of language. The sentence is mild and non-accusing. Obama does not accuse the people who did not vote for him in any way. Instead, he implies that the cause lies with him. It is like the often used phrase is solution-focused therapy and coaching: "you must have had good reason to...". Obama's sentence is inviting and benevolent. The sentence makes it very easy for non-Obama voter to start to appreciate him and join after all. The sentence also displays hope, optimism and confidence. "I have not yet", implies that this may very well still happen.
This simple sentence is very powerful. With such admirable rethoric skills it is no wonder that Obama has been able to organize so much support, that there were so few problems in his campaign, that the problems that were there were so effectively dealt with, and that Obama has such a strong appeal to so many people.

November 7, 2008

10 questions for the solution-focused coach youtube video

Improved well-being, one small step at a time

"It is not pointless for people to seek to improve their well-being. However, improvement may not come from major events such as winning the lottery, despite the seemingly life-changing nature of such examples. Rather it seems like the key for long lasting changes to well-being is to engage in activities that provide small and frequent boosts, which in the long run will lead to improved well-being, one small step at a time."

November 5, 2008

Before Obama said 'yes we can!'

This blog has featured several articles on something called stereotype vulnerability (read Stereotype vulnerability research: bridging social and ethnical performance gaps, 5 Experiments that make you think, and Self confirming beliefs). What I said in one of these posts is that I find this line of research so interesting because it allows for some optimistic conclusions about bridging performance gaps between different social and ethnical groups. In this sense this research might be an example of A social science about what could be. Today, history has been written. Barrack Obama has been voted president of the United States and will, like they say, become the most powerful person in the world. Who'd have thought that a person with a brown skin could do something like that? Who'd have thought a majority of 'white' voters could do something like that?

In his victory speech, Obama used the phrase 'Yes we can', like he has done many times before during the campaign. In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama said: 'Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?' Obviously he has chosen for the latter and he chose to call his book: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vintage). Before Obama stepped up saying 'Yes we can', he must have reached another conclusion first, which is: 'Yes I can'. Of course, he will have been aware of the stereotypes and the cynicism that is there. And before he invited the American people to see that 'out of many we are one, that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those that tell us, we can't, we will respond with ... yes we can', he must have made the choice himself to rise above the cynicism, stereotypes and doubt.

Several politicians have said they want to be uniters instead of dividers but have not been very convincing. Obama has been convincing because his life and his campaign have shown examples of how he indeed is becoming a uniter. When tested, he has shown courage, mildness to individuals and consistency. This is what makes leaders like Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama irresistible: they invite us to bridge gaps and rise above ourselves and obstacles while we can actually observe them doing that themselves.

I don't believe in Utopia and I believe the importance of leadership is often overestimated. This means that during Obama's presidency, problems will remain, challenges will be great, and mistakes will be made. But I do believe in progress, in the possibility of improving the situation we are in. I feel this is progress. It's awesome!

November 4, 2008

Improving language - improving life

Through the years, my appreciation for deliberately developing language skills has grown. On this blog, I have mentioned several themes in the use of constructive and effective language. Here are a few examples:

Improve your questions: in the post Effective questions for helping and providing direction examples are given of solution-focused questions that can be helpful in many contexts like helping, managing and self-coaching. Improving your questions will probably help you achieve your goals more pleasantly and quickly. As Marilee Adams says: 'Great results begin with great questions.' One person who uses this wisdom is Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, who says: 'We run the company by questions, not by answers.'

2. Improve language fit
: the post Language matching explains how in solution-focused conversations an important aspect in communicating with the other person is to match the language of that person. The post Evidence of the advantage of using the words of the client describes a clever experiment that shows how incredibly strong the effect of language matching can be.

3. Improve language wisdom
: the post Speaking words of wisdom explains how many people, with increasing age, use more positive and fewer negative affect words, use fewer self references, use more future-tense and fewer past-tense verbs, and demonstrate a general pattern of increasing cognitive complexity. The effect is Positive Emotion Regulation. The post Language use and mental health shows that good health is associated with a limited use of first-person pronouns, and with a relatively high use of causal words (because, cause, effect).

4. Improve your No
: the post The importance of saying No gracefully explains how No is one of the hardest words for us to say. But, if we can learn how to say it gracefully, if we can learn how to say it positively, I believe it can really help transform our personal lives, our work lives and the larger world. This interview with William Ury explains how to say No positively.

5. Improve healing language
: Greek philosopher Aeschylus once said: "Words are the physicians of a mind diseased". And this is true. Several types of language use can have downright healing effects. For instance, take the technique of normalizing. Normalizing is used to depathologize people’s concerns and present them instead as normal life difficulties. It helps people to calm down about their problem. It helps them realize they're not abnormal for having this problem. Another example of such a technique is reframing. Reframing is a technique which places what has happened or what has been said in a positive light (for instance assuming a positive intention or pointing at a positive effect). Yet another technique is Mutualizing. Finally, there is the technique of Creating an expectation of positive change.

6. Improve your compliments
: compliments can be great tools (read this). Specific techniques help you to compliment effectively, like Indirect compliments, Affirming questions, Process compliments, and the The ABC of compliments.

More and more, I am beginning to believe that improving your language is an excellent way of improving the quality of your life.

November 3, 2008

November 2, 2008

Belief about what you can achieve

I found a quote in the book I mentioned yesterday that describes the growth mindset. Looking at the index of the book I saw it did not mention Carol Dweck nor the concept of the growth mindset, which I find surprising. After all, the product description says: "Now Colvin has expanded his article with much more scientific background". Well, Carol Dweck's mindset concept is one of the best researched and most useful ideas in this field; how could you miss it? Anyway, I assume the author meant well. And the quote is interesting; here it is:
Do you believe that if you do the work, properly designed, with intense focus for hours a day and years on end, your performance will grow dramatically better and eventually reach the highest levels? If you believe that, then there's at least a chance you will do the work and achieve great performance. But if you believe that your performance is forever limited by your lack of a specific gift, or by a lack of general abilities at a level that you think must be necessary, then there's no chance at all that you will do the work. That's why this believe is tragically constraining. Everyone who has achieved exceptional performance has encountered terrible difficulties along the way. There are no exceptions. If you believe that doing the right kind of work can overcome the problems, then you have at least a chance of moving on to ever better performance. But those who see the setbacks as evidence that they lack the necessary gift will give up - quite logically, in the light of their believes. They will never achieve what they might have. What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you ever will achieve. ... The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Perhaps it is inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence also shows that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better.

November 1, 2008

Talent is overrated: new book on deliberate practice

About half a year ago, I quoted Geoffrey Colvin, who wrote a Fortune article with the title What it takes to be great. In that article he said: "Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill."

In the article Colvin translates the concept of deliberate practice to the situation of business. Briefly, the term deliberate practice refers to the work by Anders Ericsson and his colleagues on how to achieve greatness in a field. These researchers have found that the best performers in any field are those who devote the most hours to deliberate practice.

Colvin has now written a book called Talent is overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. In it, he elaborates on the content of the article. Being a fan of the work by Carol Dweck on the growth mindset (to which this work is obviously related) I am of course curious about this book. Maybe more about it later.

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