A Coaching Power Tool Created by Bianca Prodescu
(Systems Coach, NETHERLANDS)
Whether a big life event is happening to us or we want to take on a new challenge, change is part of our journey.
How we react to change has a lot to do with the aftermath of how we went through previous situations.
And the bigger the challenge that we go through, the bigger the goal, the more complex the design of the solution. Thus the bigger the risk of failure.
We tend to prefer minimizing the risk through thorough planning and analysis. A well-designed plan has at its core the logic needed to execute it most efficiently. It feels great to be prepared and it’s nothing better than having a routine to adhere to keep you focused on the goal.
During our journey towards that big achievement, we interact with a lot of people, create new relationships, and evolve current ones, observe the change in our environment and even modify the environment with our actions.
As our brain learns from every event, it searches for patterns to make the process more efficient. For example, you can drive home from work, without having to think about every action you take to control the vehicle, leaving your mind to efficiently look at the traffic and even organize tomorrow’s event.
But in reality, no two situations are the same. So when our brain tries to apply the same solution and make the plan we inevitably make assumptions.
About what others think about us, how we are perceived, which would be the best solution that makes everything better.
The more assumptions we make an estimate based on feelings, the more likely it is that we will fail. Because we start labeling, categorizing, and judging the behavior and events we see only through our own lens, we eventually stop listening and learning.
Also, the more time is invested in detailing your solution, the more pressure is added to its success. Inherently driving inflexibility to change and adapt our plan, when the real situation does not match the expectations.
While validating these assumptions, collecting evidence, and direct observation, new findings emerge that inform your understanding of yourself and the situation.
By using this fact-driven decision-making approach you are slowly transforming from dealing with uncertainty to adapting to change.
The first step is to identify that you are going through change and how it manifests itself:
- What has changed for me?
- What does the change mean for me?
- When is change manageable for me?
- How can I apply this insight to my situation now?
Acknowledge that whatever plan you are making, whatever decision you are taking is based on a pile of assumptions.
Then learn how to recognize them. At the end of the day try to list as many as possible, breaking them down into simple statements. As simple as possible.
If you aren’t sure where you are making assumptions, then look at situations or moments when you felt stuck. What is the thought, feeling, or interpretation that stopped you from moving forward at that moment?
Here are some examples of everyday assumptions:
- I didn’t get that promotion at work, because I’m not good enough.
- My friend is not talking to me so often lately, because they don’t care about me.
- This colleague is always late, so he doesn’t respect me.
- My spouse left the dishes in the sink again to spite me.
To get out of an assumption loop, try to get the curiosity into play by asking yourself questions like:
- What could go on for that person to make them act like that?
- How would others describe this event?
- What facts, data or evidence do I have to support this thought?
- How else could this situation have been perceived by others?
Now that you have primed your mindset for learning and to be open to other perspectives, it’s time to collect more facts and information through practical application.
Decide which statement you want to observe first and transform your assumption into a hypothesis:
I believe that if I do this (action to a variable), then this will happen (reaction to a dependent variable).
The key to a good hypothesis statement is whether it is observable either from multiple points of view or in multiple instances.
Now it’s time to act it out and collect your insights.
But sometimes even in small change events like this, the desire to succeed may be so big that even if the evidence disproves it, you may tend to ignore it.
If that happens then an easier approach would be to state a null hypothesis:
I believe that if I do this (action to a variable), nothing will change.
This is a general statement which states that there is no causal relationship and the results that are observed are a product of chance. The results can be objectively verified, tested and they indicate that there is no need for change in actions or opinions.
Your main goal will be to disprove it, so as you set out to verify that this statement is false, you are accepting that multiple perspectives and theories can exist.
The more you are aware of the assumptions you are making, the more you open yourself to the possibilities of new perspectives and you give yourself opportunities for learning and growing.
As a coach you can observe the thought process of your client and notice when they reach the following pitfalls:
- Analysis paralysis - when all the energy and time is spent on discussing and making a plan, and no action is taken.
The client is over-analyzing, trying to find meaning in everything. They weigh all their options, try to understand the situation deeper and deeper, decide the best outcome, then compare that outcome with an even better outcome. And the analysis and planning loop starts again.
In this situation, the client may be overly-critical and they may find simple solutions not good enough.
- Goal erosion - when the gap between now and the end goal is so big, that it becomes overwhelming. The client chooses to adjust the goal by lowering the bar to such a low step they would have agreed to in the beginning.
Pay attention to your client not completing the actions they committed to previously. Avoiding and postponing are signs that the assumption made was incorrect or the step taken was too big and not all the important assumptions were fleshed out.
- Over planning: Another moment you can help your client is when you see them coming up with a lot of steps and actions, spread out over the course of several weeks or even months.
A rule of thumb is that something that can be done within a few hours is more likely to be completed successfully because we can predict better what’s within our reach.
It doesn’t always need to be in the context of a big change. Listen to the words your clients use to describe situations and events: “I can tell that…”, “I’m certain that…”, “Obviously, they are …” “I have a feeling that…”. “I believe they are doing that too…”, “It must be like that…”, “I feel [like this], so they must be [like what I feel]”, “They disagree with me, so they are against me”.
When that happens invite your client to be curious about how they came up with that statement.
Help them explore “what if” scenarios and get focus on the learning they need from the first steps they want to take and how could those learning impact their plans.
As the client becomes open to the idea that their plan will change depending on what they learn, the first steps become more clear.
Look back at a moment when you felt stuck or you didn’t want to engage in a specific situation and try to identify what led to your reaction.
- What was my reaction when this situation occurred?
- What was the trigger for my reaction?
- What evidence, observations or facts do I have to prove this thought is true?
- How can I check if that is actually the case?
- What is a more realistic way of seeing this?
- Is this really my own opinion, or is it someone else’s and I didn’t question it?
- How would it look like if the opposite of this statement were true?
- What options would I have, if this statement were not true?
- What is the level of confidence that I have in this statement? (answer to the question above)