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?

References

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 eBookIt.com. 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.

References

Bannink, F. (2006). 1001 Solution-focused Questions. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Einstein, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/L004680
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 eBookIt.com. read more →

Anger

Have you felt entrapped by the surge of frustration coursing through your body?

It can pounce without notice!

Sometimes it builds from small things turning into deep murmurings. If it is left to fester it drives varying size wedges between us. To avoid this potential disaster at work we have to be ready with a suite of commanding tools so that we are not derailed by surprises or methodical degradation of relatedness.

The following three steps will potentially help you stay connected and frustration free at work.

1. Stop with the stories in your head

One of the most powerful keys to successfully overcoming frustration is to stop making the problem more complicated by creating stories in our head. The best way forward is to create a list of the facts, which are causing the frustrating and take only these to the people involved, bravely and mindfully.

 

 2. Pull the facts apart to understand another perspective

During these times of frustration we often feel like pulling something apart. Sometimes it’s the boss, other times it’s the organisation and still others it’s the person we feel has created the frustration for us. While this may help us ‘feel’ better the end result often complicates future relatedness.

Therefore stick to the facts! Analyse, pull apart, these and these only. By unpacking the facts relationship have a better chance of staying in tack or even strengthening. Facts are facts. They don’t change and they are not personal. Therefore by focusing on the unique parts of a fact and exploring another’s understanding enables collaborative perspectives to be developed. This open space potentially creates room for true innovation.

 

3.Focus on the innovation

When the facts have been analysed and a new collaborative understanding has been arrived at, true innovation can begin. As Albert Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that it created. As you look at the unique parts of the facts and discover a new way of looking at them, potentially you will be able to move beyond the frustration. The impact of this mindfulness often results in the disempowerment of frustration. It also frees us up to think cohesively about the problem rather than remaining stuck in the frustration.

 

Above all, keep your thoughts on the facts and not on the person. This will enable you to move forward through the entrapment of frustration and discover the freedom offered by a new and collaborative perspectives. 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:

http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/research/summaries.aspx

http://www.cappeu.com/Portals/3/Files/Why_Strengths_The_Evidence.pdf

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 www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. 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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Lets face it time waits for no one! Time keeps ticking away regardless of our efforts to squeeze in more and more into our day.

The question then stands: Can we really be successful at time management. Clearly no one can manage time. Maybe this is why it is a source of constant frustration for so many people in every industry and organisation.

Therefore where should our focus lay? It’s all about us! We must turn our attention from that which we cannot manage, time, and focus on that which we can manage, ourselves.

We need to ask ourselves, what am I being coerced by, which is distracting me from using my time efficiently? What is keeping me from achieving my goals? Why do I allow seemingly unimportant things to side-track my purpose? Once we identify the answers to these questions we can begin to unpack our priorities, unlock our potentialities and begin to stand firm on behaviour which will strategically help us work towards achieving our goals.

When we start becoming more strategic around how we use our time the impact is wide and deep. The areas influenced are an impressive list:

  • Improved work-life balance
  • Increased productivity
  • Lower stress levels
  • Created opportunities for the important or what we do best
  • Developed delegation skillset and organizational skills
  • Enabled goal achievement

Let me offer five steps that may help you begin this process of reclaiming your authority for the purpose of achieving your goals within the time allocated.

  1. Prioritize actions for goal achievement
  2. Analyze what needs to be done and identify each actions purpose against your goals
  3. Filter out distractions, take authority of your space and be deliberate in who influences your focus
  4. Schedule in key people to enable success
  5. Execute your plan with mindfulness and purpose with key people around you, stay focused and always flexible

Remember, you are the only one who can achieve success in this aspect of your life and career. You must become the achieve ingredient in self-regulation and not a passive recipient; simply responding to other people’s agenda.

Now is the time to step up, identify your priorities and goals, action them purposefully and be the change you want to see. read more →

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 (info@semannslattery.com).

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Written by Anthony Semann – Director Semann & Slattery

Recently I was facilitating a professional development program and posed the following question to the participants ‘Do you define your workplace as a thinking organisation?’ This question was met with silence. As such I presented a follow up question, ‘Imagine this, if we were to see employees as a knowledge library, how many books are in your organisational library, which sections of your library have a large number of books and which sections would you like to have more books in’?

Building the skills and knowledge of employees is not mutually exclusive. Skill development results in better performance and outcomes in the workplace, however historically acquisition of such knowledge has been gained through some very traditional processes such as attendance to conferences and one off professional development programs. Now whilst these are useful means of acquiring new knowledge, they can at times be very costly and the opportunity for the whole team to participate as a group in such ventures is limited. So how might we as leaders create a thinking organisation?

  1. Promote provocation – provocative thinking stimulates conversation and invites people to justify current practices whilst allowing new ways of thinking e.g. asking the question ‘what are the challenges of retaining our current approach and what might be a new way of thinking about our work’?
  2. Implement divergent thinking in the workplace – invite people to think outside the box and refrain from responding with ‘we’ve tried that before’ or ‘I don’t think that will work’. You’ll never know the success of a new way of working unless you give it a try and keep trying.
  3. Make space for innovation – allow people time to step away from their day to day work and make allowances for them to think about innovation beyond their own roles e.g. to make suggestions to other on how they might improve their practices.
  4. Ask the hard questions – hard questions invite hard answers so embrace the idea that thinking deeply about our work is what it takes to make a breakthrough in the workplace. Don’t shy away from a challenge!
  5. Create spaces for debate – debates need not reduce people to an argument. Present an idea during a staff meeting and invite people to debate the idea until all sides of the debate have been exhausted.
  6. Embrace ambiguity – we don’t always have an answer however sitting with ambiguity creates a space for people to think and play with ideas. Embrace the idea that we don’t always have to know the answer to every problem, but we do have to always be open to finding the answer.
  7. Remain curious – the death of curiosity is the death of intelligence. Always be curious about what is taking place in the workplace. This approach keeps your brain hard wired for more information.
  8. Allow new staff to share their insights  – new staff have a new perspective. Don’t shut down new ideas by spending a lot of time advising new staff about ‘how we do our work here’ All this does is crush new thinking, New staff have not being indoctrinated into our way of working so embrace their freshness and insights.

So what are you waiting for, take time to increase the knowledge in your workplace through these simple and worthwhile actions.

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We all have moments at work where we either want to scream or stomp a little! When communicating with colleagues becomes difficult or near impossible we need a new strategy to overcome the ‘communication hurdle’.

A brillant tool for achieving this goal is called Restorative Practice, or as I like to call them restorative conversations.

The restorative conversation process has its foundations in Restorative Justice. The main theme to these conversations is active listening for all and justice for all.

A restorative conversation is simple in its framework. It is a calm and open space where the following questions are asked of the offender and the victim:

Offender are asked these restorative questions:

  • “What happened?”
  • “What were you thinking about at the time?”
  • “What have you thought about since the incident?”
  • “Who do you think has been affected by your actions?”
  • “How have they been affected?”

Victims are asked these restorative questions:

  • “What was your reaction at the time of the incident?”
  • “How do you feel about what happened?”
  • “What has been the hardest thing for you?”
  • “How did your family and friends react when they heard about the incident?”

(See International Institute For Restorative Practices for more details and research behind these questions)

As you reflectively ask these questions you enable a space for people to open up and become more receptive to resolving difficult interpersonal communications. You also discover the way forward, which is empowering for both parties and reestablish a safe a secure work space.

Of course, active listening is key to the entire process. So listen, think and then speak/act!

Do not let bad feelings, due to poor communication, hamper the success of your team and workplace.

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MAKING CONNECTIONS A child is born with over 100 billion neurons or brain cells. That’s enough neurons to last a lifetime, since no more neurons will develop after birth. These neurons form connections, called synapses, which make up the wiring of the brain. (Don€’t worry, these terms are defined later)

EARLY EXPERIENCES At age eight months an infant may have 1,000 trillion synapses. However, by age 10 the number of synapses decrease to about 500 trillion. The final number of synapses is largely determined by a child’€™s early experiences, which can increase or decrease the number of synapses by as much as 25 percent.

“USE IT OR LOSE IT!” The brain operates on a “€œuse it or lose it” principle: only those connections and pathways that are frequently activated are retained. Other connections that are not consistently used will be pruned or discarded so the active connections can become stronger.

DEFINING LANGUAGE SKILLS When an infant is three months old, his brain can distinguish several hundred different spoken sounds. Over the next several months, his brain will organize itself more efficiently so that it only recognizes those sounds that are part of the language he regularly hears. During early childhood, the brain retains the ability to relearn sounds it has discarded, so young children typically learn new languages easily and without an accent.

THE POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD The power of early adult-child interactions is remarkable. Researchers found that when mothers frequently spoke to their infants, their children learned almost 300 more words by age two than did their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them. However, mere exposure to language through television or adult conversation provided little benefit. Infants need to interact directly with others. Children need to hear people talk to them about what they are seeing and experiencing, in order for their brains to fully develop language skills.

THE LOVING TOUCH Warm, responsive caregiving not only meets an infant’s basic, day-to-day needs for nourishment and warmth, but also responds to their preferences, moods and rhythms. Recent research suggests that this kind of consistent caregiving is not only comforting for an infant, it plays a vital role in healthy development. The way that parents, families and other caregivers relate and respond to their young children, and the way they respond to their children’€™s contact with the environment, directly affect the formation of the brain’s neural pathways.

CREATING ONE STABLE BOND Researchers who examine the life histories of children who have succeeded despite many challenges, have consistently found that these children have had at least one stable, supportive relationship with an adult early in life.

Read more @ http://www.jumpstarttulsa.com/brain_development.htm read more →