My son loves school, but every morning it’s like we’re living 50 First Dates. He forgets how much he enjoys learning and playing with his friends until he actually enters the building. He yells at our Amazon Echo when it reminds him that it’s time to get dressed for school. He mopes while he picks out (at an excruciatingly slow speed) his mismatched clothes.
Recently I’ve been using a coaching technique that has helped everyone’s mood. I’ve been taking his complaint and using it to broaden his perspective. Here are a couple of examples:
Alexa reminds him to get dressed.
Him: Your reminders are terrible, Alexa!
Me: Are they really that bad? Let’s play a game. We’ll take turn naming things more terrible than Alexa’s reminders. I’ll go first: dropping my ice cream on the ground.
Him: [Thinks.] A monster destroying Ninjago city.
Me: Getting a cold and missing something really fun.
Him: A baby penguin dying. [Yikes.]
After a couple more rounds, he was laughing and we were declaring each other winners of the game. He then got ready without complaint.
Child is refusing to put on his school clothes.
Him: I don’t want to go to school today. Today is Saturday. I want every day to be Saturday.
Me: Hmmm. I like Saturdays too. What would you do on your perfect Saturday?
Him: [Lets me dress him while he talks.] I would watch the Ninjago movie and play Legos.
Me: That sounds fun! What would you eat for breakfast on your perfect Saturday?
Him: Fish and krill. [He was a penguin that day.]
By then he was dressed, and he penguin-waddled across the hall to brush his teeth.
In both of these examples, it would have gotten us nowhere for me to keep askyelling for him to get ready. We would have both been grumpy and started our respective days in a terrible headspace. But by taking his lead and using it as prompt for us both to think creatively, he felt heard and reoriented his focus.
I use this approach in my coaching. If a coachee gets stuck in a thought spiral – often around the worry that she is not an effective pastor – I ask a question to help her widen the view: “What’s the best affirmation you’ve received lately?” (Often this is not an explicit “thank you” but a realization that she has been invited into a tender place by a parishioner.) She realizes that she is making a difference in tangible ways. Or, “what is one change you’ve seen in the congregation since your arrival?” One small change opens the door to thinking about several ways the coachee has led the church toward growth.
This can work for clergy in their ministry settings too. Consider the following:
Church member: This [ministry initiative] won’t work.
Minister: Hmm. Ok. Let’s think about everything that could go wrong.
After brainstorming the possible catastrophes, probe why these outcomes are so undesirable. Then name all the potential positive outcomes and discuss, in light of these different visions of the future, what the most faithful next step is. With this approach, you can acknowledge the church member’s resistance, unearth some unspoken – maybe even subconscious – norms and fears, move toward agreement on action, and stop many of the parking lot conversations that sabotage change.
Perspective shifts are invaluable when there is stuckness. Next time you feel mired down, try opening up the conversation with a question, brainstorming prompt, or game.