A Coaching Power Tool By Jonathon Regan, Transformation in Education Coach, NETHERLANDS
Disruption vs. Silver Linings: A Power Tool for Transition
The adage “Never let a good crisis go to waste” is characterised by challenge, resilience, adaptability, reflection, ultimately leading to a new and enhanced condition. It implies that those who have endured crises may have been gifted an opportunity to thrive.
What implications might this have for those who are stuck moving from ‘now’ to ‘next’?
By leveraging the power tool Disruption vs. Silver Linings, any situation relating to transition can be explored effectively. Where disruption necessitates a new perspective, this tool is agile enough to crack a small nut, yet robust enough to prise the lid off systemic or institutional change.
Disruption isn’t always a crisis.
Just when you feel that things are under control, life throws in something unexpected. It could be a little thing affecting your family’s schedule: the kids have an opportunity to watch a movie at a friend’s house and so dinner plans need to be reconsidered. An unplanned event, like an unexpected offer of an overseas post, would have a much greater impact. Disruption can also be existential. Take the recent pandemic for example: In January 2020, the world saw the first cases of COVID-19, a coronavirus that took the world by storm and that still affects each of us every day (As I write, a war is breaking out in Eastern Europe).
Irrespective of the scale of impact or outcome, any interruption to the smooth running of our routines is mentally taxing and carries with it a degree of stress – the human natural biological response to challenge or change. In psychology, stressors are often categorised in severity, the common factor between these categories is an inconsistency between expectation and perception. It is this cognitive dissonance that becomes an obstacle to positive forward momentum. Though stress has positive biological functions (fight or flight response), prolonged stress has a debilitating effect on our body and mind.
How might a coached conversation help reveal the tension resulting from disruption?
Examples identifying and exploring disruption:
- I hear your frustration. What else has changed that might be affecting your normal sense of calmness?
- I hear that this has come as a surprise. What would you like to do with it?
- I hear you are confused. What is different about this new situation?
- I hear that you don’t know how to respond. What advice would you give to someone else?
- I hear you are feeling powerless. How might disruption strengthen your position?
- I hear you have lost some control. What part of this new situation would you be prepared to own or be responsible for?
- I hear that was inconvenient. How did that make you feel?
- I hear that your circumstances have changed. What will happen if you don’t adapt to this new situation?
- I hear you are disturbed by this development. What opportunity might arise from your new circumstances?
Recognising a new normal
Disruption is inevitably followed by a new normal. This is a state characterised by its differences from the original state – it is not necessarily a better or worse situation, just different. Recognising and accepting this change, however, comes with its own psychological price tag of anxiety. Though the level of anxiety experienced is likely proportional to the control we have over the change, by shifting perspective it is possible to regain a measure of control over a situation. By developing skills of resilience, we are affected less negatively by subsequent disruptions.
How might a coached conversation help develop new perspectives?
Examples of exploring transition:
- As you close that door, what new doors might open?
- I hear your expectations are no longer being met. What does this mean for you?
- I hear that you are moving to something new. What negative aspects of your life can you now leave behind?
- I hear you don’t want to leave anything behind in haste. What are the non-negotiables for you?
- I hear you are feeling vulnerable – what action can be taken to alleviate this discomfort?
- I hear that you want to move forward. What do you need to let go of?
Moving forward with optimism: silver linings
To ensure that any new normal is both positive and sustainable, it must include the learnings from disruption. Let’s call those learnings Silver Linings.
Every cloud has one.
Armed with this metaphor for optimism, we can call to mind those things which we started doing in reaction to our changed circumstances and bring them forward with us, in a considered response to our new circumstances. At the same time, we should remember to leave behind those things that no longer make sense in our new paradigm.
How might a coached conversation help develop positive and sustainable action?
- I hear the action you have taken. What other things have you started doing that could help you move forward?
- I hear you have courage. What is it you can dare to do now, that you could not dare to do before?
- I hear how effective this is for your current situation. How might this help you cope with future disruption?
- I hear the value you recognise in these ideas. What do you want to do with your new vision?
- I hear you are passionate about this. What might others say about your ideas?
- I hear that you are now in a new place. What opportunities does the change in your environment open up?
- I hear you have worked hard to get to this place. How are you going to carry this resilience forward?
A cycle of opportunity
Moving from the disempowering perspective of Disruption to the empowering perspective of Silver Linings is not a matter of flipping a switch. Despite appearing to be a linear process, it is more a cycle and within its process there is overlap. A successful coached conversation will, in its course, require the acknowledgement of an underlying dissonance, a desire to see beyond obstacles, an openness to accommodate new perspectives and it will be punctuated by frequent reflection.
This tool draws some inspiration from the Kübler-Ross model and is presented as one possibility for orchestrating the inevitable complexity and messiness of coached conversations. As her collaborator explained when applying the Five Stages of Grief model to the recent pandemic, “It’s not a map, but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world.”
Using coached conversations will help shift perspective from the pessimism naturally contained within disruption towards the optimism of silver linings, where positive and sustainable ‘new normals’ reside.
Using this tool might even lead to having eternal optimism for a ‘never normal’ world!
 "Psychological stress - Wikipedia." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_stress. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.
 "Cognitive dissonance - Wikipedia." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.
 "New normal - Wikipedia." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_normal. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.
 "The Psychology Of Dealing With Change: How to Become Resilient." 21 Feb. 2020, https://www.psycom.net/dealing-with-change. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.
 "SILVER LINING | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary." 23 Feb. 2022, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/silver-lining. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.
 "Five stages of grief - Wikipedia." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_stages_of_grief. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.