Recurring problems in your life or career? You may be asking yourself the wrong sorts of questions..
One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned over the years, is that asking the right sorts of questions, is invariably more powerful than providing solutions. I believe that you can apply this logic to most areas of your lives and careers, particularly if you are feeling stuck or blocked in some way. This is how it works...
One of the many interesting facets of human nature is that we rarely respond well to being told what to do, or having others solve our problems, particularly when the intervention is uninvited. The typical reactions are irritation, or switching off. When we are the architects of our own solutions, we feel energised and committed to putting our ideas into practice. This is why skilled leaders who empower others are often far more effective than autocrats who micro manage or tell them what to do. It also explains why insightful questions are a greater gift than well intentioned solutions. Men in particular need to watch this one, as we have a tendency (hard-wired I believe) to try to fix others problems for them.
The logic also applies to conversations you have with yourself, and the sorts of questions you may ask of yourself. For example when people feel stuck in a career which no longer fulfills them (or perhaps never did) there is a tendency to ask big, daunting questions such as 'what am I going to do with my life'? or 'how am I ever going to get out of this given my age/size of my mortgage/school fees'? There is nothing wrong with these big questions in and of themselves, but they tend to lead to a circular conversation which rarely moves you forward. The tendency is to catastrophise the problem, energise it and make it seem insurmountable.
A smarter, more effective approach is to ask yourself questions which are more likely to energise and empower you, rather than the problem. For example; what are my transferable skills AND attributes? what would I chose to do if I knew that I could not fail? and then 'what people and resources can I draw upon to help me to make the change'? Changing career can be difficult in a mature economy and it is important to acknowledge this so that you can seek the right sort of help, rather than letting it stop you in your tracks. Constantly challenging your own assumptions and questioning everything will keep your creativity alive and will help to keep you alert to alternatives.
'A vital question, a creative question rivets our attention. All of the creative power of our minds is focussed on the question. Knowledge emerges..opening us up to new worlds'
Verna Allee- The Knowledge Evolution
These sorts of questions do not necessarily provide immediate solutions but rather, they encourage you to look at the problem from slightly different ways. Using visualisation - 'how differently will I feel when I find the right career or role for me'? and making lists of alternatives are a great starting point. Most importantly you need to change the nature of your internal dialogue from self-limiting to self-empowering and it is remarkable how effective this can be. Recent developments in the field of neuroscience and positive psychology support this view strongly, but it requires sustained effort and self awareness to make it work.
Sadly, many people, even high achievers, tend to underestimate what they are capable of, or regularly beat themselves up. As a coach and mentor I see this all the time and one of my challenges is to help these people to replace their internal critic with a kinder, more positive voice which will support them through change, rather than tripping them up. Asking insightful questions at the right times is the crucial input from the coach, because it may lead to precious breakthrough moments. This is where both parties reach a joint understanding- a light bulb moment if you like- which enables them to move forward with clarity and purpose. Professionally speaking, there is no better feeling and one of my goals is to help my clients to ask better questions of themselves- to arm them with greater self-awareness and mastery, rather than a short term fix or sticking plaster.
David Head is a Coach and Mentor with the award winning firm, Accelerating Experience. firstname.lastname@example.org