By Lorraine Madden

Is the glass half empty or half full? What would you say? This well-known saying requires little explanation. Typically, even when we are looking at the same situation, we can see it or make sense of it in very different ways. These different ways of thinking, about problems, challenges and even people can all be described as examples of reframing.

Reframing is a useful technique that is used in social work (McCashen, 2005) and in coaching (Greene & Grant, 2003). McCashen (2005) defines reframing as follows:

‘Reframing helps people think differently about themselves and the problems they are facing. It involves exploring alternative perspectives on the same event, story or experience and enabling genuine choice of a preferred description. Reframing is aimed at creating possible positive descriptions’ (p. 63).

Greene and Grant (2003) describe it in the following way:

‘Reframing is about changing the meaning we give to events, not necessarily changing the events themselves’ (p. 41).

Both definitions highlight the potential of reframing in thinking about a current perspective in a new and different way. Reframing is also an opportunity to rethink the event or story in a more positive light. This is important because how we see a person, situation or challenge impacts on how we respond. With people we can either damage or strengthen the relationship, depending on the viewpoint we take. With situations, our perspective can stop us from taking action or alternatively, inspire us to take the first step towards reaching a goal.

Regardless of whether we are ‘coaching’ ourselves or someone else, reframing is a useful tool for thinking about and understanding people and situations in a different way or from a previously unconsidered perspective. For example:

  • Do we describe parents as ‘demanding’ or an advocate for their child?
  • Do we label children as challenging or having unmet emotional needs?
  • Do we see our peers and colleagues as not motivated, or motivated by something different to us?
  • Do we describe a relapse in making a change as a failure or an opportunity to celebrate progress to date and make some adjustments to the plan?
  • Do we reprimand ourselves for being nervous, or remind ourselves that being nervous might be a very normal response in a given situation?

Below is a list of statements with some possible reframing responses. Reframing responses can be statements, questions or a combination of both. You might also like to consider some different ways to respond.


Statement Reframe
“We have tried that already…” So we have a good idea about what doesn’t work. What can we do differently this time?
“It has been an absolute failure.” An absolute failure? Which bits did work? What can we learn from what happened? What might we do next time?
“We don’t have the time to do any of that.” What can we stop doing in order to make time? Which bits do we have time for?
“Just ignore it. That child is just doing that to get attention?” I wonder what the child is trying to tell us that we just aren’t getting? What do we need to do to better understand them?
“That parent isn’t interested in being involved. That’s just the way they are!” I wonder what barriers exist that might disable parents from participating fully?

Adapted from Greene & Grant (2003)

Why not brainstorm some of the labels, statements or perspectives that are creating barriers to successful relationships, positive changes or goal attainment, and think about what other understandings or viewpoints might be possible. Try to suspend judgments and remain curious about different ways to understand the person, event or challenge. You might also like to brainstorm ideas with colleagues or friends, before deciding on a new way of thinking, and potentially a new course of action.

And finally, back to the question of whether the glass is half empty or half full…. perhaps the glass is always full!


Greene, J. & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-Focused Coaching: Managing people in a complex world. Harlow:Pearson Educated Limited.

McCashen, W. (2005). The Strengths Approach. Bendigo: St Luke’s Innovative Resources.

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10 Sep 2014
September 10, 2014

Strengths spotting

Coaching, Leadership 0 Comment

Lorraine Madden

8 September 2014

Much has been written about the benefits of using our strengths across all aspects of our lives. Interestingly, many of us have difficulty identifying strengths. In addition, most people who can name their strengths say they don’t use them all that much (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan & Minhas, 2011).

There are a number of questionnaires and assessments that can be used to determine a person’s strengths. Some are free, such as the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths. Other can be purchased for a fee, such as Realise2 and the Clifton Strengths Finder.

Discovering our strengths through a survey or assessment tool is helpful for a number of reasons. Importantly, it gives us a tool with which to better understand, articulate and utilise our strengths, which can make us happier, more productive, engaged, energised, resilient and confident (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). This knowledge also helps us to notice, describe and talk about the strengths we see in others, and how using these strengths impacts on them and on others.

Linley (2008) describes the ability to notice strengths in others as strengths spotting. Strengths spotting means we are actively seeking to notice what people are doing when they are at their best. He provides the following list of ‘telltale signs’ of strengths use:

  • A sense of energy and engagement when using the strength
  • Losing a sense of time when using the strength
  • Rapid learning of knowledge and skills associated with the strength
  • A repeated pattern of successful performance using the strength
  • Exemplary levels of performance using the strength
  • Consistently getting the task donethat requires the use of the strength
  • Prioritising tasks that require the use of the strength
  • Feeling a strong desire or longing to use the strength
  • Being drawn to do things that play to the strength (Linley, 2008, pp. 74-75).

Asking someone to talk about what they are doing when they are at their best can also reveal a number of telltale signs indicating strengths use. Linley describes an activity he used with a group of students in which he asked them to first talk about something they dislike or find challenging, followed by something they love doing. You might like to try this with people you know. Look and listen for changes in energy and emotion; body language and gesture; voice quality, such as pitch and tone; word selection; and the delivery and impact of the story.

Refining your strengths spotting skills enhances awareness and understanding of your own strengths and the strengths of others, increasing the potential of using your strengths more frequently and effectively, resulting in greater benefits, for you and for others.

There is a lot you can do to better understand and refine your strengths spotting skills:

  1. To find out more about your strengths spotting skills, you can complete a strengths spotting scale. To access the scale go to:
  2. To read Linley’s complete chapter on strengths spotting go to:



Biswas-Diener, R., Kashdan, T. B. & Minhas, G. (2011).A dynamic approach to psychological strength development andIntervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(2), 1-6-118.

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others. Coventry, England: CAPP Press.

Linley, A., Willars, J. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book. Coventry, England: CAPP Press.

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This is the fifth and final blog in a series of five that explore the art of asking the proper question. In this blog I offer some final points to consider in enhancing your questioning skills.

Making progress

To feel more confident in the art of asking questions, you need to practice, practice and practice some more! This might mean taking time to prepare for an upcoming conversation and think about some possible questions that might be helpful. However, take care to hold this list lightly. If you are too focused on asking the next ‘right’ question, you won’t be able to hear what the other person is saying, and may miss vital information and insights that could have led to a ‘better’ question and better solutions.

Don’t be tempted to rush into asking another question when there is a pause in the conversation. In your haste to fill the gap, you may not select the best question to move forward. Sitting with the silence can also allow a moment of reflection for you, and the other person, which may generate answers (or questions) that weren’t available a moment ago, and open up the conversation in a way you hadn’t thought possible (Tighe, 2011, Greene & Grant, 2003).

Set yourself small and achievable goals in asking the proper question, according to your current capacity and confidence. Take time after the conversation to reflect on what happened, what you did that worked well, and what you might do differently next time. Take note of and celebrate your achievements along the way, and build on this success as you continue to enhance your skill level.


Greene, J. & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-focused Coaching: Managing people in a complex world. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Tighe, L. (2011). The Answer: Improve Your Life By Asking Better Questions. [eBook]. Published by read more →

This blog is the fourth in a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. In the last blog I looked at solution-focused questions. In this blog I offer some examples of solution-focused questions.

Examples of solution-focused questions

The following examples are offered tentatively and as suggestions only. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list, and certainly not one you would work through from beginning to end. In getting started, you might like to select one or two to try out, as appropriate and relevant to the conversation. You might also like to add your own to this list!

Exploring goals

–       What is the most important thing for you/us to be talking about right now?

–       What is the best possible outcome you are hoping for?

–       What would you like to happen that’s not happening now?

–       What do you hope to achieve from doing that? What would that give you?

–       Imagine you/your workplace twelve months from now. What would you like to be happening?

–       You have identified a number of issues and concerns. Which one is the most important one to start with?

–       What seems most achievable or manageable for you right now?

Exploring what’s happening

–       What’s currently happening?

–       Can you tell me a little more about that?

–       Can you give me an example of what that looks like?

–       What are others noticing about what’s happening?

–       What are your thoughts/feelings about what’s happening?

–       At what times throughout the day is this issue most evident/less evident?

–       When is the issue not happening/less of a concern? How is this different to other times?

Exploring options

–       What has worked for you in the past?

–       How can you move closer towards your goal?

–       What is the first step you could take?

–       Who can support you in making this change?

–       What support would you like from me?

–       What might be the pros and cons (or costs and benefits) of this course of action?

–       I wonder if there might be other possibilities you/we haven’t thought about?

–       Which of the options we discussed is the best possible fit for you right now?

–       How confident are you about taking this step? What would need to happen for you to feel more confident?

–       What are some of the obstacles that might get in the way? What can you do to overcome these obstacles should they arise?

–       Would you like to add a suggestion from me? (Offered tentatively and with permission)

–       How will you keep track of your progress? Measure your steps forward?

–       When would you like to check in again to see how things are going?

 Exploring progress and next steps

–       What’s changed? How are things different?

–       What are you most excited about/most proud of?

–       What worked well? What didn’t work so well?

–       What did you learn?

–       How would you do things differently next time?

–       What barriers have you overcome? How did you do this?

–       Where to from here? What are your next steps you will take?

–       Now that you have made some progress towards your goal, how will you ensure you stay on track?



Grant, A. M. (n.d.). The GROW Coaching Checklist [Handout]. Retrieved from read more →

This blog is the third in a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. In the last blog I looked at closed and open questions. In this blog, I will focus more specifically on asking solution-focused questions.

Solution-focused questions

Open questions that help us keep up moving forward in the direction of our goals are sometimes referred to as solution-focused questions. A study by Grant and O’Connor (2010) examined the effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions using an exploratory pilot study. The study found both problem-focused and solution-focused questions helped participants make progress towards a desired outcome. However, this was more so for participants who were asked solution-focused questions. In addition, solution-focused questions were found to have a greater impact on increasing positive emotions and self-efficacy, and helped participants to have a better understanding of the nature of the problem.

Solution-focused questions can be used in a number of ways. They can help us to:

–       Explore our uncertainty or ambivalence about making a change

–       Articulate our thoughts and feelings about a given situation

–       Raise awareness about our strengths, successes and achievements

–       Rethink our current way of thinking from another perspective

–       Imagine (or reimagine) a desired or best possible future

–       Gain clarity about a goal or goals

–       Build confidence, generate hope, and create a more positive mindset

–       Identify a range of options, strategies and action steps to achieve a goal

–       Evaluate progress towards our goals.

So what are some examples of these better, powerful, ‘magic’, solution-focused questions? To begin with, there is no ultimate list, although Bannink (2006) did come up with 1,001 of them! The best solution-focused questions need to be considered in the context of the current situation, the people involved in the conversation, the issues at hand, and the desired outcome.


Bannink, F. (2006). 1001 Solution-focused Questions. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Grant, A. M. & O’Connor, S. A. (2010). The differential effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions: a pilot study with implications for practice. Industrial and Commercial Training, 41(2), 102-111. read more →

This blog is the second in a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. Having introduced the importance of asking questions in our initial blog, I will now explore two different types of questions.

Different types of questions

Closed and open questions are two types of questions you may already be familiar with (Greene & Grant, 2003). Closed questions are typically used to obtain factual information and to check for accuracy. For example: Where do you live? Have you received coaching before? So what I am hearing you say is that reading isn’t your preferred way of learning. Have I got that right? While they have a purpose, closed questions don’t facilitate an interesting, thought provoking conversation in the same way that open questions can.

Open questions have the potential to promote learning and discovery, share thoughts and feelings, generate new ideas and possibilities and even facilitate positive change. However, in asking open questions, we need to take care we are asking the ‘better’ question (Tighe, 2011).

In finding the better question, much of the literature suggests we refrain from asking ‘why’ questions (See Tighe, 2011; Starr, 2008; Greene & Grant, 2003). Despite our intentions, ‘why’ questions can be interpreted as accusing, critical and judgmental. Asking why questions can force people to feel a need to justify themselves or defend their position. In addition, why questions tend to keep us stuck in the problem, which is not always helpful in generating solutions that keep us moving forward (Greene & Grant, 2003). Alternatively, questions more likely to open up a conversation in a way that promotes greater respect, interest and curiosity are those beginning with what, when, where, how and which (Tighe, 2011).

Consider the following questions and your reaction to them:

–     Why did you do that?

Compared with:

–       What was the outcome you were hoping for?

–       How did that approach help you achieve your goal?

–       What did you learn by doing it that way?


Greene, J. & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-focused Coaching: Managing people in a complex world. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Starr, J. (2008). The Coaching Manual. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Tighe, L. (2011). The Answer: Improve Your Life By Asking Better Questions. [eBook]. Published by read more →

By Lorraine Madden

Asking QuestionsAlbert Einstein (n.d.) is quoted to have said “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”.

This blog is the first of a series of five that explores the art of asking the proper question. This blog introduces the importance of asking questions and offers some factors to consider. The second blog will explore two different types of questions: closed and open questions. The third focuses on asking solution focused questions. The fourth blog provides some examples of open ended, solution focused questions, and the fifth and final blog offers some final points to consider to enhance your questioning skills.

About asking questions

Much has been written about asking questions. We can read about the better question (Tighe, 2011); the powerful question (Greene & Grant, 2003; Starr, 2008); the magic wand question (O’Hanlon & Beadle, 2005); and the solution-focused question (Bannink, 2006), to name a few.

Questions are a critical component of our conversations (and relationships) with others. Asking questions helps us to acquire information, check facts, gain new insights, broaden perspectives, determine options, find solutions and build relationships. Asking questions of others and of ourselves is also an important feature of reflective practice.

In thinking about the questions you might use in a given situation, it can be helpful to reflect on your relationship with the person, the purpose of the conversation, and your intentions going into it, for yourself and the other person (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2002). This will help you determine the questions you might ask. Approaching the conversation with curiosity and an open mind will also inform your question choice.


Bannink, F. (2006). 1001 Solution-focused Questions. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Einstein, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Greene, J. & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-focused Coaching: Managing people in a complex world. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
O’Hanlon, B. & Beadle, S. (2005). A Field Guide to Possibility Land: Possibility Therapy Methods. London: BT Press.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R. & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Starr, J. (2008). The Coaching Manual. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Tighe, L. (2011). The Answer: Improve Your Life By Asking Better Questions. [eBook]. Published by read more →

Written by: Lorraine Madden, Associate @ Semann & Slattery

There is a strong evidence base about the benefits of using strengths at work. Discovering and using strengths has been found to help people achieve their goals, increase positive emotions and wellbeing, and enhance workplace performance (Linely, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). Click on the following links to read more about the evidence base for using strengths:

Linely (2008) defines a strength as ‘a preexisting capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance’ (p. 9). He also argues that ‘realising our strengths is the smallest thing we can do to make the biggest difference’ (2008, p. 47)

Clearly, the research is compelling. However, we can’t utilise our strengths if we don’t know what they are! All to often, when people are asked to name their strengths, they struggle to do so. Interestingly, they can be quick to name the things they are not good at, or their so-called weaknesses.

Don’t despair! There are a number of resources available to help you identify your strengths. One that is well utilised is the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). The survey measures a person’s twenty-four character strengths. The results provide, in rank order, a person’s character strengths from 1-24, including their top five ‘signature strengths’. To complete the survey, go to Click on register and complete the free registration, prior to completing the survey itself. Allow yourself about 30 minutes to complete the survey.

When you get your results, some of you may be tempted to focus on those ‘strengths’ at the bottom of the list. Certainly, there may be some instances in which you may want to develop strengths lower down the order. However, where possible, look for opportunities to maximise the use of your signature strengths. Linely and his colleagues argue that in some instances it can be helpful to pair a top strength with a lesser one, in order to reach a goal. They also propose using a team approach, working with colleagues to utilise their strengths, together with your own, to achieve a desired result.

As a word of caution, Linely and his colleagues advise you take care not to overplay your strengths. Of course it is appealing to use what comes naturally to you, you are good at, and find energising. However, take care to ensure they are appropriate to the situation, context and people involved.

Why not make an appointment with yourself today (or this week) to complete the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. Suggest your colleagues to do the same so you can compare your results, remembering this is not a competition, as all strengths have value. Reflect on how you are currently using your signature strengths, both individually and collectively, and look for opportunities to ultilise them more frequently.

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Written by Lorraine Madden. Associate, Semann & Slattery

Everything you always wanted to know about coaching and were too afraid to ask!

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘coaching’? Most probably the answer is sport! Certainly, coaching has connections with sport, and draws on theories and research from sports psychology. It also draws on business consulting and management training, education and psychology (Grant & Greene, 2001). In recent years there has been increasing interest in the potential of coaching to enhance learning, performance and personal growth, and promote positive change personally and professionally. Increasingly, coaching is seen as a viable alternative or complement to professional development programs.

So what exactly is coaching?

Coaching has been defined in various ways in the professional literature. A study by Hamlin, Ellinger and Beattie (2009) investigated 36 definitions of coaching as part of a study to examine the range of meanings and understandings given to coaching. More recently, coaching has been defined as:

A collaborative endeavour between a coach and a client (an individual or group) for the purpose of enhancing life experience, skills, performance, capacities or wellbeing of the client. This is achieved through the systemic application of theory and practice to facilitate the attainment of the coachee’s goals in the coachee’s context (Standards Australia, 2011, p.10).

Put simply, coaching is a goal-oriented, solution-focused conversation between a coachee and coach, which promotes the learning and development of the coachee and supports them to create positive changes in their lives.

Coaching and mentoring – what’s the difference?

Sometimes the terms ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are used interchangeably. This can create confusion as to how they are different and when you might use one over the other. Typically, at the beginning of a coaching engagement, the coach will give an overview of the way they will work with the coachee. This provides an opportunity to define such terms, ensure there is a common understanding about what will happen in the coaching sessions, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the coachee and the coach.

Mentoring typically involves someone with greater experience and expertise supporting a mentee to gain the skills, knowledge and expertise required in their new position. This is done through a combination of showing, telling and guiding. In coaching, the coachee sets the agenda, according to their purpose or intention in seeking coaching. In addition, while the coach will bring a particular set of skills, experience and expertise to the coaching relationship, this does not need to be related to the occupation or experience of the coachee (Greene & Grant, 2003).

Why coaching?

There is a growing body of evidence of the benefits of coaching for individuals, teams and organisations. This includes greater commitment to the goals set in coaching, and increased success in attaining those goals. It also includes increased well-being, hope and resilience (See Grant, 2003; Green, Oades & Grant, 2006; Spence & Grant, 2007; Greene, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007; Grant, Curtayne & Burton, 2009).

These findings are supported in the outcomes of a project conducted by Semann & Slattery in 2011 with leaders and aspiring leaders in the early and middle education sector in Western Australia and the Northern Territory (Slattery, 2012). Participation in the project involved attendance at three professional development workshops and engagement in three individual coaching sessions. The focus of the program was to equip leaders to increase positivity in the workplace through increasing their own levels of hope and optimism. Results demonstrated increased levels of hope, optimism, work engagement and workplace wellbeing and reduced levels of stress. In addition, the majority of participants (89%) reported that they had very positive experiences of coaching.

Why not coaching?

Do you have a commitment to ongoing learning, enjoy challenging yourself, and are ready to create positive change? If the answer is yes, coaching might provide an alternative or addition to more traditional methods of learning and development such as conferences, workshops and/or professional reading.

Coaching is one of a suite of professional services available at Semann & Slattery. Contact our office for more information and a professional quote by phone (02 95571460) or email (

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14 Aug 2013
August 14, 2013

Goal Setting

Coaching, Featured, Leadership, Positivity 0 Comment

Written by Lorraine Madden. Associate at Semann & Slattery

Setting goals is a very important part of achieving in our personal lives and at work. This video is a great summary on how goals can work for you and your team. Watch it and be inspired to set some goals today.

You may also be interested in our other informative videos:

1. Redefining Leadership by Anthony Semann

2. Motivation by Colin Slattery

3. Goal Settings Video by Lorraine Madden read more →