A Coaching Power Tool created by Lene Brendstrup
(Executive Coach, DENMARK)
During their life time most people will have to deal with changes. No matter whether the change in question is small or large the ways we approach the change are very different. One person will choose to look at the positive side of the new situation and another person will focus on the negative side. How you deal with the change will influence the outcome – depending on the approach and perspective. Also the process of dealing with the change will affect the two people in different ways.
Definition of Limitations
One way of dealing with a change is focusing on the limitations, which the change will bring. According to Dictionary.com the definition of ‘limitation’ is: ‘The act of limiting or the state of being limited’. Examples of big changes in life could be:
- Death of close family member
- Getting fired from job
- Break up of marriage
All these changes in life would normally been seen as negative events in life, and a person can easily find a lot of limitations and doubts on how to get through this change in life. Many will automatically start listing all the negative scenarios and compare to the way things used to be before the change. The examples are all big changes of life, but for many people also smaller changes will end up in a focus on the limitations (e.g. moving to a new city for job/education, breaking an arm or a leg etc.).
Definition of Opportunities
Think about how different it would be for the person experiencing the change, if he/she instead were focusing on the opportunities. According to Dictionary.com the definition of ‘opportunity’ is: ‘A favorable or advantageous circumstance or combination of circumstances’ or ‘A chance for progress or advancement’.
From the definitions there is no doubt that ‘opportunity’ is the positive way of looking at things. By focusing on the ‘opportunities’ a person will get energized and experience a much more positive process getting through the change of life.
Balance of Opportunity and Limitations
It is popular to say that people either talk about a glass being “half empty” or ‘half full’, but I believe it is about finding a balanced approach. It is easy to find the benefits of focusing on ‘opportunities’, and the disadvantages of focusing on ‘limitations’, but I believe there are both a good and a bad side to each of them. The focus on ‘limitations’ can also be seen as a kind of critical thinking, where you analyze the situation (and analyzing is about looking at different sides of the problem and evaluating possible outcome of different scenarios). In this way looking at limitations can be useful in preparing yourself for the future challenges.
It would be another extreme only focusing on ‘opportunities’. Then you will dive directly into a situation without any critical thinking. Sometimes this approach will work, and sometimes you will get burned and realize that it would have been beneficial spending time on analyzing a situation from several sides before taking action.
The solution is therefore not to avoid looking at ‘limitations’ and only focus on ‘opportunities’, but more about finding the right balance between the two.
Most people know if they are naturally a person focusing on the ‘opportunities’ or the ‘limitations’ when a change comes up in life. The self-awareness about how you will naturally look at a situation is the first step.
Often when you focus on ‘limitations’ it tends to be so overwhelming that it drains you from energy, which adds to the problem. You need to get yourself into a situation where you take control of your own situation. Looking at the situation you have to identify the following:
- What you are in control of.
- What you can influence.
- What is outside of your control.
Forget about spending energy on things, which is out of your control and focus on things in your control. By doing so you got the power to make conscious choices, and you will be actively influencing the outcome of the change. The change has already happened, but you are now in a position to take control of your own life.
The balanced approach will be looking at the situation from both positive and negative sides, and it can often be done by looking at the situation from the balcony or helicopter. Looking at the situation with a more holistic view will distance yourself from the situation, and then it is easier to see things from different perspectives. This is like in the business world where you would start with the strategic focus and look for possibilities. After that you would move to tactical focus where you will be looking at the solutions. The best solutions often come when you have spent sufficient time on the strategic level analyzing things from different angels identifying options and scenarios.
Coaching a client going through a change in life will be about supporting him/her in the process to come out in the other end pleased with the outcome. In this process it is important to let the client see things from different perspectives. In that way the client will be able to identify more options.
The job of the coach will also be to help the client focus on things, which is in his/her control – this is especially needed if the client feels trapped and is focusing too much on things, which has already taken place, or which he/she cannot control or influence. Focusing on things within your own control gives the client more power of the situation, and it gives a feeling of freedom, which enables the client to move into action. All of this gives energy to the client who will be moving into a positive reinforcing spiral.
Useful coaching questions to help the client look at the situation from different perspectives and to focus on things within his/her control:
- Did you previously experience a difficult situation where you focused on the opportunities? What did that feel like?
- Think about how it would look like if you focused at the opportunities the situation provides. How would that feel like?
- Think about the choices it would give you to look at the opportunities. What could the choices be?
- In 5-10 years’ time, how would you look back on this situation?
- Think about your friend being in the same situation. What would you recommend him/her to do?