SF tip #6: How to add some positivity in difficult times
by Steve Onyett
These are undeniably difficult times for people working in health and social care. In our coaching work we hear stories of being asked to do more with less in a context of increasing demand and busy-ness. This is a context where working with a Solutions Focus has most to offer.
A previous tip gave guidance on how to avoid sounding “Pollyanna-ish” and a bit naïve. In addition to this we would add the following.
Work with what you have, not with what you haven’t.
This key SF principle has most power in a context of austerity where people are talking mainly of deficit and abundance. We are always where we are at any given point and to make the best of what you have it is crucial to bring your best assets into consciousness.
I was working with a senior manager on one occasion and after getting a vivid description of his “Future Perfect” as an the most effective and confident leader her could imagine I asked him to scale where he felt he was now on the journey towards that future from zero (not a glimmer in anyone’s eye) to 10 (the full realization of his vision).
Looking somewhat downcast he said “Maybe about one?” with complete conviction.
We then explored the “Know how” aspect of the OSKAR model by exploring why he was not at zero. How had he managed to get to one?
We spent a full hour exploring in detail the very many things that he was already doing that was a bit like his vision and the many and various contexts in which this was happening. The conversation ended with him confidently asserting the small steps he planned to take making the best use of those talents that he most trusted to take him into the future.
Recognise the power of appreciation and give it voice
It is one thing to recognize assets and what works in the context of a coaching session. When done in your everyday work it transforms cultures. As Tony Suchman said, “We are creating the organisation anew in each moment by what we are saying about it and how we are relating to each other as we carry out its work” . Many research studies has highlighted how the most powerful influence on people’s morale at work is their relationship with their immediate line manager . What an opportunity this presents to transform experience at work by showing appreciation for others in your daily work as a manager. Among peers, the ratio of positive to negative comments in teams has been shown to be an enormously powerful predictor of team effectiveness, four times more than any other factor .
Recognise the cynicism trap
In difficult times the seductive power of cynicism is enormous. It is so tempting to bolster our esteem by denigrating those people over there with easy stereotypes. Cynicism can be comforting, bonding, creates a sense of being credible and aware, and is also sometimes just plan hilarious. At the same time when it becomes the dominant way of being it can drain the spirit out of organizational life in a way that stifles the energy and creativity needed to serve our clients and help ourselves to retain a sense of meaning in our work. Ben Zander observed that “A cynic, after all is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again” . SF recognises that the things we talk about get bigger. So we seek to talk to the passion rather than the disappointment.
Don’t try too hard
Finally, echoing Mark’s earlier tip, if it feels too difficult to be positive in difficult times- then don’t! Your affirmations and sense of the positive need to come from the heart and the lived experience of what you see. If it doesn’t it will just sound like “blah blah blah”. So don’t force it. SF is not about being “problem phobic” or “solutions forced”. Effective host leadership [www.hostleadership.com] is about giving people space to be everything they need to be in order to shine authentically from the best that they can be in the moment.
Steve Onyett is a facilitator, consultant, coach and researcher. He currently heads Onyett Entero, is a member of the sfwork team, Associate Professor at Exeter University and Visiting Professor at the University of the West of England and University of Central Lancashire.
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