Monday, March 16, 2015

Solving -v- Resolving

I've just been to the Inter-Community School of Zurich where I've completed Days 5 - 8 of the Cognitive Coaching Foundation Training.  Much of this time was spent getting familiar with a new map:  the problem-resolving conversation.   This map is very different from the previous two where a goal has already been set.  In the problem-resolving map teachers often cannot envision a goal or a desired state because they are caught up in the present with a wicked problem.   They are stressed and feel overwhelmed because their resources are low.  They know what they don't want, but can't yet imagine what they do want.

One of the first things we learned about with this map was that often when we listen to someone who is "stuck" in the present, we tend to do something called "solution listening".  We focus on analyzing the problem rather than focusing on the desired state.  If we believe we are responsible for coming up with other people's solutions, then what we are doing is keeping others from coming up with their own creative responses.  Therefore with the problem resolving conversation we do validate the present situation and the emotions that are connected with it, and then we quickly move away from the problem and on to the desired state.  Previous maps dealt with the future (the planning map) or the past (the reflecting map) but the problem-resolving map is all about the present.  At the same time it's important to know where the end point of the journey will be:  you can't decide on your route until you know your destination.

As a coach, during the problem-resolving conversation you need to set aside your comprehension of the issue (it's not necessary for you to understand or to know what has led up to the existing state - we are not therapists or counsellors), and you also need to set aside your own comfort and wish for closure.

I was really interested to read about the science behind this map.  The problem-resolving map is used for people in stressful situations - they are dealing with the freeze/flight/fight emotions which means their brains are no longer thinking or reflecting but are simply in reflexive mode.  These are the times when you have the churning in your stomach as you get out of bed, not wanting to go into work or face another day dealing with difficult individuals.  In these situations coaching can really help to get people out of the reactive, survival mode and into one where they can think productively.  And coaching helps in another way too:  talking about an issue with another person activates more parts of the brain than just thinking about the issue alone.

In the problem-resolving map, the coach honours and acknowledges the existing state.  S/he will first say "You're ... (emotion), because ... (content)".  This lets the coachee know that the coach understands in an empathetic and non-judgemental way.  Once the coach receives a reaction to this paraphrase (called a BMIR) that lets him or her know that the emotion and content have struck a chord, then the coach can move forward to mediate thinking that draws on the internal resources of the coachee in order to frame a possible desired state.  At this point the focus is all about what the other person wants to be, have or feel, so the coach will say "And what you want is to ..... (goal connected with feeling, being or having), and you're looking for a way to make that happen."  This is called the pathway, and it is then up to the coach to ask questions that tap into the 5 states of mind (consciousness, craftsmanship, efficacy, flexibility and interdependence) that help the coachee to think further on the solution - the problem has been left behind, as brain research indicates that you cannot think about a problem and a solution at the same time.

Resolving a problem is different from solving it, it's a more dynamic process.  We are not looking for a quick fix, and we want to encourage thinking as opposed to doing during this conversation.  The coach, in fact, walks alongside the coachees and reflects back to them what they are saying.  The coach has to let go of the solution, let go of the fact that s/he may never know closure.  The entire aim of this conversation is that the coachee is left feeling more resourceful and so it is possible to end the problem-resolving map with either a reflection on the process or with a "walk away" question that will encourage further thought.

Photo Credit: Bourguiboeuf via Compfight cc

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