A Coaching Power Tool By Emily Cornell, Life Coach, UNITED STATES
Could vs. Should A Shift in Perspective
This coaching “power tool,” Could vs. Should create a shift in perspective for the client to help them move from a disempowered perspective to an empowered one.
In the disempowered perspective, a client likely feels trapped by their “shoulds”: actions, feelings, or even ways of being that they believe they should be living up to. When they have been able to shift to a more empowered perspective, they’ll be able to see what could be possible and begin to gain forward momentum for themselves from there.
Stop “Shoulding” All Over Yourself. (If Only It Were That Easy.): Why and How the Disempowered Perspective Shows Up. And the Flip Side.
In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown discusses her research on shame triggers for women. She explains that, as she read through definitions and examples provided by her research subjects, she began to see
“a sticky, complex web of layered, conflicting, and competing expectations that dictate exactly:
- who [women] should be
- what [women] should be
- how [women] should be”
In my work coaching women who want to more authentically show up to themselves and their lives, I hear a lot of shoulds.
I should get my dating profile written and up on that site.
I shouldn’t be so cranky with my children sometimes.
I should have more time and energy to do X, Y, and Z.
I should be able to put blinders on and just get through it…
It makes sense; our society places a lot of demands on women to, as Dr. Brown argues, “be everything to everyone” and that the pressure to do so is something that women are “more socialized to do [than men].”
The common refrain that I hear again and again is that they should feel heavy, impossible to meet at times and that there’s a sense of shame (i.e. the feeling of “I’m unworthy”) when they aren’t met. In short, operating from a perspective of shoulds can be disempowering.
But it’s not always easy for these clients to see a way out from that perspective. That there’s a more empowering one, full of possibility, just on the other side of the coin. That by flipping there should to could, options might open up.
In their book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander make a strong premise:
Many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view.
Those assumptions are usually internal but may be informed from societal cues and pressures. And the whole point of this power tool is to help the client find that different frame around their set of circumstances so that they may begin to see new possibilities.
I See What You’re Suggesting. But How Does It Work? Applying the Tool in the Coaching Context
It should go without saying that every client is unique and that the coaching process must be tailored to suit their individual needs. That said, there are a couple of ways coaches might apply this power tool:
Help the Client See the Shoulds in Their Stories
It has often been said that the first step in creating change is to become aware of what’s going on in the first place. Clients often don’t realize that their self-talk is full of shoulds, and so one of the first ways I can help as a coach is to bring their awareness to it.
This might look like this:
- Offering a direct observation such as “I notice you using the word ‘should’ quite a bit to describe your response to this situation” and then inviting the client to examine whether or not it means anything.
- Mirroring a statement or statements the client has made and placing a verbal emphasis on the word “should,” allows the client to observe whether or not those “shoulds” are a pattern worth exploring.
Once the client has determined that their “shoulds” limit the way they’re approaching a situation, it is then possible to help them shift that perspective.
Invite the Client to Shift Their Perspective
There are several ways (and indeed likely more than several) ways in which I, as a coach, can partner with a client to help them shift their perspective.
It might look like:
Inviting the client to explore what changes when the client replaces the word should with
Asking questions such as:
- What could be possible in this situation?
- What would happen if you could do anything?
- What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about anybody else?
Offering an outside resource such as the “It’s All Invented” exercise from The Art of Possibility, a structured series of questions for one to look at the underlying/hidden assumptions they might be making to help highlight that other possibility exist.
And Then What Happens?
Sometimes, the shift in perspective can be so significant that a whole new set of possibilities immediately opens up for the client. As a result, they might feel energized by a newly-found sense of empowerment and ready to begin action planning for how they might take their new insight into the situation at hand.
Occasionally, the client needs additional time to process the perspective shift and isn’t quite ready to move into action planning within that session. In these instances, I find it helpful to invite the client to spend some time reflecting (either in the session itself or following) on what has changed both internally and externally.
In either case, the shift in perspective from should to could bring about “aha” moments for the client, allows them to see new possibilities, and helps them continue on their path with forwarding momentum.
References + Acknowledgements
Brown, Brené Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Avery, An Imprint of Penguin Random House.
Zander, Rosamund Stone with Zander, Benjamin The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash