May 31, 2010

Positive No exercise

Here is a simple exercise with William Ury's positive no approach which you can try out with a colleague or a friend. Use the following steps as a guideline.

1. What is your 'no'? 
Think of a situation in which you cannot agree or don't want to agree with what some else (a customer, a colleague, a manager) asks of you. Describe this situation. What exactly is it you are saying 'no' to?

2. What is your underlying 'yes!'? 
What is your good reason for saying 'no'? Which (positively formulated) interests, needs, values, principles are your reason for saying 'no' in this situation?

May 28, 2010

Activating Evaluations

Evaluation is often important, whether it refers to our individual behavior or large scale projects. Our efforts our seldom successful in each and every time and in every aspect. Evaluation helps us to get an idea of how successful something has been, what went right, what went wrong which is essential to determine further steps. But evaluation in practice is often problematic in the sense that it lacks precision and usefulness. Years ago, my colleague Gwenda Schlundt Bodien and I were dissatisfied with traditional evaluation approaches. We found evaluations often lacked precision in focus, over accentuated numbers, focused too much on problems, and lacked usefulness for both the person who provided the information and the one who gathered it. Based on solution-focused principles we developed an approach to evaluation we called 'Activating Evaluations' and which aims to overcome the shortcomings mentioned above. Briefly the approach consists of four steps along the following lines:

May 26, 2010

New book: Doing Something Different- Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Practices

There is a new book on solution-focused practices!
(Btw, I wrote two contributions to it):

Doing Something Different -Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Practices
Edited by Thorana S. Nelson.

Many books on solution-focused brief therapy provide histories, overviews, and uses of the approach. This book does not do any of those things. What it does is provide those interested in the solution-focused approach with a plethora of ideas for practice, training, and simply enjoying the solution-focused approach and its practice in therapy, consulting, supervision, coaching, and enjoying solution-focused ideas. The book includes favorite quotes and stories, outrageous moments in therapy, and a list of solution-focused songs. Anyone who enjoys the approach in any manner should find something that grabs the interest and tickles the senses and sensibilities. Readers should come away informed, entertained, thoughtful, and amused.

What was really helpful was to talk to someone who knows nothing about our work

Yesterday, I had a pleasant conversation with Hank, a former coachee of mine and his manager and personnel manager. Two years ago, I had coached this person after he had made some mistakes in his work. The objective of the coaching was to make sure that he would not make anymore mistakes in the future. Because he was working in a hospital laboratory, any mistakes could create serious health risks for patients. The coaching took place over a period from January until October and consisted of six conversations. Three weeks ago I was invited to have one more conversation with him and with his new line manager and the personnel manager. His old line manager had retired in the meantime and his personnel manager would soon leave the hospital to go work in another hospital.

May 25, 2010

Why and how do older people focus more on the positive?

Rodney Daut asked the following after reading these two posts: Important brain functions can keep getting stronger well into old age and Speaking words of wisdom: "This is interesting. Is it because our thinking gets more complex that we see more possibilities? Or did they offer some other theory for the increase in positive and future-focused language?"

Here is my answer
According to Barbara Strauch´s book The Secret Life of The Grown-up Brain, older people are just as easily capable of detecting negative information as young people but they focus more on positive information. This focus is partly conscious, partly unconscious. Researcher Mara Mather found that the brightest brains do indeed have the most bias toward the positive (which seems to support what you propose).

May 24, 2010

Demotivating conversation with manager

Recently, I was talking to Mark, an employee who just had a conversation with his manager. In this conversation the manager had given him some feedback on his work. Mark told me the feedback started with two positive points which were followed by a list of at least eight negative feedback points. Mark had taken notes and showed me the list of feedback points. He said had found the conversation very demotivating. While the manager was giving the negative feedback he had found it rather hard not to become defensive. He found most of the critique unfair. Despite of this, he told me, he had remained calm and kept from getting defensive. The most demotivating aspect of the conversation, however, had yet to come. 

May 23, 2010

Important brain functions can keep getting stronger well into old age

Barbara Strauch's book The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain is about how our brains unlike most parts of our bodies is not simply subject to decay from age 35 or so on. While certain brain functions do indeed suffer (for instance our ability to remember names), in many aspects the functioning of the brain is actually improving: we become better at pattern recognition, we make better judgments due to our tacit knowledge, and we generally develop a more positive outlook on life as we grow older. The book debunks the idea that from a certain point, somewhere around 40, we are over the hill and from that point on we only have one way to go: downhill. While we grow older our bodies do decay in many respects, many of our brain functions can keep on going uphill well into old age. 

May 22, 2010

New light on the origin of the scaling question - 'The Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale'

In solution-focused circles, it is often assumed that the scaling question first emerged from the work of the Brief Family Therapy Center of Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim berg and their colleagues. However, Michael Klingenstierna Hjerth mentioned something interesting on his Facebook page, which sheds a different light on the origin of the scaling question. He quotes a Gallup article which explains that an intervention called 'The Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale' (Cantril, 1965) has been used since the 1960's and is a favorite of Daniel Kahneman.The Gallup article describes the technique as follows:
  • Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
  • The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
  • On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
  • On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

May 19, 2010

Matt Ridley, the rational optimist, predicts what will happen in the rest of the century

Matt Ridley's new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves argues for optimism about our future. The author claims that life has been getting better throughout human history and will remain to get better (even at an accelerating pace) and explains why this is so. Curious what he means by 'better'? Here is what Matt Ridley predicts will happen in the rest of the century:
  1. Prosperity spreads, 
  2. technology progresses, 
  3. poverty declines, 
  4. disease retreats, 
  5. fecundity falls, 
  6. happiness increases, 
  7. violence atrophies, 
  8. freedom grows, 
  9. knowledge flourishes, 
  10. the environment improves 
  11. wilderness expands.

May 18, 2010

Derren Brown Investigates

Derren Brown is a fantastic performer who could easily trick people into believing he has psychic powers. In his performances, he appears to be a stunning mind reader. However, Derren Brown says all he does is use a mix of mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. In fact, he is actually a great rationalist and skeptic himself. Currently, he has a new show on English Channel 4 called 'Derren Brown Investigates'. It's wonderful, as you can see below.  

Derren Brown Investigates - The Man Who Contacts The Dead (Cold Reading)

May 14, 2010

Whistling Vivaldi (Book review)

BOOK REVIEW: Steele, C.M. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (Issues of Our Time). New York, W.W. Norton & Company.

This book by social psychologist and Columbia University provost, Claude Steele, is a splendid example of how psychologists can make valuable contributions to society. In the book, Steele writes about the work he and his colleagues have done on a phenomenon called stereotype threat, the tendency to expect, perceive, and be influenced by negative stereotypes about one’s social category, such as one’s age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, profession, nationality, political affiliation, mental health status, and so on.

May 11, 2010

How stereotypes affect us and what can be done about it

In Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us social psychologist Claude Steele writes about the work he and his colleagues have done on a phenomenon called stereotype threat. Stereotype threat refers to the tendency to expect, perceive, and be influenced by negative stereotypes about one’s social category (one's age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, profession, nationality, political affiliation, mental health status, etc.)

Briefly, how stereotype threat works is as follows: you know your group identity and you know how society views it. You are aware that you are doing a task for which that view is relevant. You know, at some level, that you are in a predicament: your performance could confirm a bad view of your group and of yourself as a member of that group. You may not consciously feel anxious but your blood pressure rises and you begin to sweat. Your thinking changes. Your mind starts to race: you become vigilant to all things relevant to the threat and to what your chances of avoiding it are. You get some self-doubts and start to worry about how warranted the stereotype is. You start to constantly monitor how well you are doing. You try hard to suppress threatening thoughts about not doing well or about the negative consequences of possibly failing. While you are having all of these thoughts you are distracted from the task at hand and your concentration and working memory suffer.

May 10, 2010

The Dunning–Kruger effect

I have frequently noticed something apparently strange when training solution-focused coaches: while they became more skillful, at the same time they seemed to become a bit more uncertain about their own skills. When I noticed this effect first it made me feel a bit uncertain, wondering whether I was doing something wrong. Today, on one of my favorite websites, Mindhacks, I came across the Dunning–Kruger effect. This paradoxical effect means that while people improve their skills, their self-assessment is reduced because they also learn to judge their ability level more accurately. It seems rather unfair, the least skillful may be more confident about themselves, than the most skillful...

May 1, 2010

The Rational Optimist

Just pre-ordered The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley. Here is a description of the book: 

"Life is getting better—and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down — all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years.

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