How to Coach People out of Groundhog Day Thinking

Posted by on Feb 2, 2017 in coaching, learning, structure | No Comments

smaller GroundHog Day

Today is Groundhog Day. Yes, it’s a real thing and not just a classic film with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, where Bill Murray has the day on repeat.

If you’ve not seen it, spoiler alert, it’s an inspirational film with a message about how we can choose to do things differently and in doing so find more joy in our own lives and give more joy to those around us.

Bill Murray’s character, Phil, starts the film ignorant and rude. He finishes the film with the girl, picks up many new skills and wins the adoration of the community.

“You must learn a new way to think before you can learn a new way to be – Marianne Williamson.”

Right now, I’m reading David Rocks’ book Quiet Leadership which is full of ways to break out of your own Groundhog Day.

It helps people develop their thinking in a different way to find their own solutions and it’s ideal to use to support your team as a leader and coach.

If you lead a team you’ll be familiar with supporting folk. Making sure they’ve got the skills and resources to get things done and that they’re able to come up with solutions to challenges.

However, leading a team is about providing the support to do this – which isn’t the same thing as providing them with answers.

That way leads to you turning into Superman, fixing everyone’s problems, all the time. And whilst a cape is dashing, wearing your underwear over your clothes is going to get people talking about you for the all the wrong reasons.

Rock’s book demonstrates ways to get tuned into thinking about things on a different wavelength.

The result?

Your solution is closer than you think.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers – Voltaire.”

Here are three approaches Rock champions:

Support him to reach his own answer

Your team member, let’s call him Joe, is stuck in the murky depths of a problem.

It’s dim and dark and he can’t see where to find opportunities for a solution. Your role is to provide a beam of light.

Once you’ve shed light on areas that could present a solution it makes it all the easier for Joe to see a solution.

Questions you might ask are:

How can I help you with this?

Do you want to think through this issue with me?

What’s going to be the best way to support you?

Notice that the questions ask for more details. They nudge him into creating deeper, new connections in his own mind about what’s challenging him.

When this happens it creates a release of chemicals in the body and primes it for movement. This in turn creates the impetus to act on these new connections and presto, Joe’s problem has become a solution.

Support him to find resources to provide the answer

Joe is stuck in a desert of problems looking for an oasis. But he doesn’t know which direction to turn.

Your role is to explore the methods by which he can think through which direction can help him.

Questions you might ask are:

Who would you need to talk to that has the expertise you need right now?

What resources are there for you to explore that could offer a solution?

How can your network be of help to you with this?

Questions like this provide potential maps for Joe to reach his oasis by highlighting opportunities. What they don’t do is draw a bright, red line on the map between him and the watering hole.

Provide an answer that’s in line with his current thinking

This method works when things get really sticky. As in quick sand sticky.

You’ve got knowledge that will make Joe’s solution a lot clearer and reachable. But again, your role is to help him think his way to the solution rather than handing him the answer. (Remember, that’s the way to start wearing your underwear over your clothes.)

This means that the language you use should be carefully chosen so as to suggest possible sources of support. The result of this is that it shows you’re not committed to this as the solution and that you’re merely floating an idea that may be in line with how Joe thinks.

Questions you might ask are:

I think I’ve some information that could help you out. Would you like me to share it?

Would you like some context or are you happy with a brief bit of background?

How in depth would you like me to be?

This tentative wording puts Joe in the driving seat and lets him direct how much he wants to know of your thoughts. Giving him this control means that he’s taking a more active part in finding a solution himself and is therefore much more likely to accept these ideas and reach a solution under more of his own steam.

The dark, the desert or drowning in quicksand

So, whether Joe is stuck in the dark, is parched for a solution in a dry desert or is starting to sink in quick sand, there are ways to support.

It’s all about how you ask.

Choosing carefully worded questions could be the greatest gift you can give to help others find their own Eureka moment. And the fact that Joe reaches his solution through his own thinking is a far bigger help than simply handing him an answer.

And this is how you can help him break through the trap of Groundhog Day.

Whilst the same challenges may appear again and again, supporting a new way of thinking can create new, innovative solutions.

Along with these new ways of thinking can come other surprises. Phil in Groundhog Day learned French, how to play the piano and ice sculpt.

Who knows what treats a new way of thinking will make for you and your team?

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