A Coaching Power Tool Created by Africa Hands
(Career and Transition Coach, UNITED STATES)
I believe in options and I hope to empower my clients with the same belief. I believe there is more than one way to reach an end state. I think it is fun to brainstorm and map out the possibilities when making a tough decision. Thus, I believe in equifinality. When working with career clients and those in transition, it is helpful to hold a space for exploration and to keep an uplifting attitude that is open to options and opportunity rather than one that promotes and supports a one-way perspective.
There are three ways to do things: My way, my way, my way! Ford Fusion Commercial, 2013
The quote may seem extreme but it is a very real situation faced by many professionals. Though today’s workplaces are going the way of the team, we still experience team members and supervisors, or others in our personal lives with “my way”, one-way, finality-oriented perspectives. Have you ever met or worked with someone who thought there was only one way to accomplish a task, namely their way? Or perhaps you know someone who, because she has a plan in mind of how to reach a goal, does not consider other options before taking action? Some think having a one-way perspective shows decisiveness, often admired in the workplace or considered to be a sign of leadership ability. But chances are you have experienced the disempowering side of having a one-way perspective.
One-way thinking inhibits growth and repels people because they begin to know your reaction, to know you are rigid in your thinking and “set in your way”. When you operate with a one-way perspective, while an action may be taken, it is apparent that you are the “decider” of that action, that your way is the only way that has been considered. One-way thinking appears in everyday life decisions such as one way to travel home from work – no alternative routes allowed; one way to prepare a certain holiday dish; one way to network or find a new job; one way to capture that perfect shot. While one person may have arrived at the best way to reach a given end state, it is by no means the only way for said person or others. This view is limiting and does not account for the many inputs that affect an open system.
What is disempowering about finality?
Finality closes off relationships with others especially when they experience finality on a regular basis. Finality is stressful because it places pressures on you to be perfect because you have set up the expectation that you are the expert, the decision maker who can do so without consultation or input from others. One-way thinking is disempowering because it creates limitations – it is a disempowering perspective in a world of possibility and opportunity.
We may have a client who comes to coaching because she is stuck in her one-way thinking but how can we recognize a finality perspective in other clients?
- Client has a plan and is ready to act without input from the system or others
- Client lives in the land of “must” and “should” – “It must be done like this.”
- Client always presents self as the expert
- Client does not mention having considered alternative paths or opinions.
There must be some good in having a finality perspective, right?
A finality perspective as mentioned above is often respected in the workplace. It shows that you know your stuff and are confident in your decisions. Being unamenable may be considered a sign of strength and leadership, so finality may be good for appearances. A finality perspective can support an indecisive person in taking action without constantly seeking advice, approval, or input from outside the system. Such a perspective causes one not to spend too much time pondering the possibilities which can lead to “analysis paralysis”.
The term ‘equifinality’ relates to General Systems Theory which influenced my Open Funnel coaching model. Equifinality means “a given end state can be reached by many potential means” or many different paths. In the equifinality perspective, one acknowledges myriad pathways leading to an outcome. For example, a career coaching client realizes that he can take several paths to finding a new job – networking, applying online, asking mentors for help, or using social media. A client who shifts to the equifinality perspective is more apt to consider the types of work that can be done with a degree in library and information science other than working in a traditional library. Shifting to an equifinality perspective frees the client to be creative, to brainstorm new ways of reaching a desired end state, and to go off the path that others may have taken. Once a client has explored and acted upon various paths with success, she will feel confident to consider this perspective again.
Can equifinality be disempowering?
Equifinality can be disempowering to those who fall into the trap of analysis paralysis, those who already take a considerable amount of time to make a decision because they are considering the many possible paths. Equifinality also may be disempowering if the perspective keeps a client from stepping into her true authority and assertiveness, for example when one seeks the opinion of others too often before making a decision because she does not want to be solely responsible for the decision.
Coaching Application: Shifting from Finality to Equifinality
To shift from finality to equifinality, one must first acknowledge being in a state of finality. Awareness about finality may be brought about through mirroring back the client’s words without judgment and by challenging the client with powerful questions.
I recently experienced the limitations of one-way thinking when working with a client stuck in her workout routine, or lack thereof. When working together to devise a plan that fit her schedule I realized that she was limiting herself in how she thought about her workout options. If she did not work out in the morning before work, then she could not possibly get it done. Through my questions she began to realize other workout options: workout at least 20 minutes before work accompanied by a walk during lunch, utilize the university gym, or workout at least 20 minutes after arriving home after work if the morning workout did not happen. She realized that she was suffering from one-way thinking by limiting her workout time to only mornings and if the morning workout did not occur, then no workout would occur. One-way thinking was hindering her weight loss and fitness goals. When she explored possibilities aloud through my questions, she began to shift to an equifinality perspective.
Engaging a client in an exercise that explores the Six Thinking Hats also may be useful in shifting perspective from finality to equifinality. Six Thinking Hats represents the varying points of view or lenses through which one may view a situation as follows:
- White hat: uses the information or data available as a means for learning. In the example of my client the information available is the fitness class schedule and hours of operation for the university gym and the client’s work schedule
- Red hat: looks at problem solving using intuition, emotion and reaction as well as perspective-taking – considering the emotions of others
- Black hat: looks at the bad points of the decision. For example, my client focusing on the bad points of not working out every morning as desired. The black hat is related to the finality perspective in that one-way thinking focuses on the bad points of others’ decisions or paths such that there is one right way
- Yellow hat: takes a more positive viewpoint by finding value in the decision such as finding value in working out at various times of the day as it allows the client to explore different fitness classes offered at the university gym
- Green hat: encourages creativity in problem solving. This hat is most relevant to equifinality as it encourages exploration of many paths to a given end state. This is the hat my client was finally able to wear to craft a more flexible fitness routine
- Blue hat: is the process-oriented hat that works to get things done.
Questions for Reflection
- Is that the only option?
- What makes it the best option in this situation?
- What makes it not the best option in this situation?
- What other options may exist in this situation?
- How is your way in service to others?
- If you were to map out several possible paths to the desired outcome, what would be one path? What is another?
Ford Fusion My Way Commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW8O1sOqOKI
Six Thinking Hats: Looking at a decision from all points of view http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_07.htm