When I was a doctoral student at Virginia Tech, I was doing my dissertation project on the use of marriage and family therapy models in business organization’s leadership and management training. I worked with leaders from industries ranging from hospitals to circus’s. We worked intensively together to educate, train, and coach them on real situations for weeks at a time. There were incredible results, which made for a very exciting project.
One of the professors on my committee, Harold Kurstedt, is a brilliant management systems engineer. He also taught parts of the training. He would often press me on how I did what I did in coaching. I told him it was a mix of several therapy models and my own personal style. I didn’t know how to explain it, much less teach someone else how to do it. After three workshops, he came up to me, handed me a sheet of paper with a diagram, and said “Here’s your model.” He had captured Solution Focused Coaching.
Though Harold was a great mentor, I worried that he expected me to work magic on the stage, particularly when he took me to Virginia’s Forum for Excellence to teach a group of 300 people. He wanted me to ask for a volunteer from the audience, have them share a personal or professional struggle, and come to a magical ending. The volunteer should feel empowered with a clear solution and exude enthusiastic confidence. Oh yes, and I had 15 minutes to do it in. I had only done this in therapy settings, or in small groups with trainees I knew well from hours of personal interviews and coaching. I was so sick with nerves that I didn’t sleep the entire night before.
That day, as the presentation got underway, Harold turned the time over to me to demonstrate Solution Focused Leadership and Coaching. I said a silent prayer for a homerun issue. An engineer from India raised his hand first. Just great. What if I couldn’t understand his heavy accent or his engineering projects, much less truly help him come up with a solution. Fortunately, prayers are answered. He and his wife were building a new home and their relationship was suffering as they fought over decisions constantly.
In a nutshell, I used the model, which includes keys like:
1. I listened without interrupting.
2. I was curious about his strengths and how he had solved problems in the past.
3. I explored exceptions to the problem story.
4. I focused on solutions, not the problem.
5. I was affirming.
6. I summarized what I had heard.
7. I kept whittling things down until together, we came up with a doable plan
He was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get home and implement the plan. He was sure things were going to be different this time. People in the audience crowded us afterwards, wondering if the engineer had been a plant because it worked out “too perfectly.”
The point of my story is that this wasn’t magic. I wasn’t exceptionally brilliant. Simply put, there are powerful, true principles in communicating effectively. If you put real effort (and it takes effort) into learning them, you will experience greater ease and satisfaction in any realm of your life. If you have tried, but still can’t apply them consistently or effectively, get someone else to apply them for you. Find a trusted teacher, a coach, a clergy member, or a therapist to help. It sure beats trying to sludge through problems in the same old ways, expecting better results, and being consistently disappointed.
Every other month, Notes From Home will pull ideas from our extensive parent curriculum on the Family Bridge to teach principles of good parenting. We hope you enjoy learning and being reminded of solid and successful principles as much as we at Homeward Bound do.
To Your Family’s Happiness!