There are plenty of challenges in life, and some of them are of our own making. We undermine ourselves, make assumptions about what's possible that restrict our choices, and let our fears stop us from even trying to reach our goals and dreams. Like a fish that is unaware of the water in which it is swimming, being stuck in old ways of thinking keeps us blind to the many opportunities that surround us.
How can we get unstuck? Not by thinking and doing things the same old way! Here are seven strategies for gaining new insights into your situation and opening up new possibilities for your work and your life.
Most conversations are like two TVs facing one another. Talking seems to be the primary focus of our communication. However, listening is even more powerful. Not the kind of listening we normally experience: listening for what's not going to work, listening for what we don't agree with so we can advocate our perspective, listening for a break in the communication so we can begin talking! Generous listening can completely transform the quality of our conversations and our relationships. And it is as simple as the words we choose and the attitude we bring to our conversations.
What is a generous listening attitude? It's the view that we are there to mine the gold in what the other person is saying, and to reflect back their wisdom so they can hear themselves more clearly. It's not merely replying "So what I hear you saying is . . .", and it's not asking a bunch of questions to further clarify what they are saying so we understand perfectly what they mean. It's listening in ways that help people to better understand themselves—and it puts the entire focus on them.
How do we listen generously? First, avoid the questions "How?" and "Why?" These are great questions when appropriate, but they can shut down conversation instantly when you'd rather keep the conversation flowing and growing. There is nothing more futile than asking "How?" when one does not yet know "What." Generous listening is the process of getting at the "What" in the other person's mind. The question "Why?" tends to spark defensiveness. Even when appropriate, it may be better to say, "Help me understand your thinking on this . . . "
Use the following phrases to listen generously and expand a conversation:
- That’s a great idea!
- Say more about that.
- Interesting! What else?
- What would that make possible?
- What would that allow for?
- Tell me more . . .
- What would make that possible?
- Help me understand . . .
When we ask questions such as, "What would make that possible?" instead of, "What could go wrong?" an entirely different conversation results. Try it! You'll be amazed how simply listening for the gold in someone else's speaking—and using these simple phrases—will completely change the character of your communications.
The Power of Negative Thinking
Barbara Sher advocates having a "Hard Times Session" to get our negative thoughts out in broad daylight where they won't seem big and scary. What is the most negative interpretation of your situation? Put on your negative thinking cap and share this with a friend. Tell your friend that you are going to whine and complain for 2 or 3 minutes, and you just want them to listen, not help or try to solve your problem. Use the three "C's": Criticize, Condemn, Complain! You'll be amazed at how silly your negative interpretation sounds when you speak it—and how much better you feel after you get it off of your chest.
Like fish blind to water, we're surrounded by the answers to our problems, and by paths to fulfilling our goals, but unable to perceive them. However, when we start looking for answers and guidance, they miraculously appear. One source of random wisdom for our lives is to "Ask an Expert." This can be a fun game, and also quite illuminating. Do this with a friend. Choose a profession for your friend, such as gardener, doctor, astronaut, jazz drummer, shepherd, used-car salesman, pirate, butcher, policeman, or bartender. Then ask your friend to advise you on your situation as a person in that profession might. Listen for nuggets of wisdom and insights that can help you. The magic of this technique is that it gives the other person permission to be creative in assisting you. And it helps you focus your attention on finding useful insights. Try this and you'll develop surprising insights!
Survival Fear vs. Stage Fright
We often get (and stay) stuck due to fear. What fears are stopping you from achieving your dreams and goals? Are they survival fears or stage fright? Survival fears are helpful—they warn us of dangers that can cause serious or permanent damage, whether physical, mental, spiritual or social. Respect these fears! Take action to reduce the chances of potentially damaging things happening.
Then there is stage fright. That's the "butterflies in the stomach" anxiety, with no real risk of serious or permanent damage. What should you do about stage fright? Feel the fear and do it anyway! If you wait until there is no fear, you'll miss out on many opportunities. In fact, most people experience stage fright, and they experience it in anticipation of many types of situations. The difference between the person who is taking action and the one who lets stage fright stop her is that the person taking action is doing so despite her fear.
Ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen?" This will shrink your fear down to a manageable size and allow you to prepare for any downside possibilities. Then, make a commitment to act—and do it!
Creative Whack Pack
A great way to find answers is to use Roger von Oech's "Creative Whack Pack." This pack of cards is associated with von Oech's book, A Whack on the Side of the Head (Warner Business, 1998). Simply choose a card at random from the Creative Whack Pack, read it, and see what insights it gives you relevant to your current situation.
Vision without action is hallucination. Until we put our thoughts into action, they remain dreams. What action will you commit to take on behalf of your vision? Mind you, confidence is not required to move in the direction of your goals, only your commitment. Choose an action that you will take this week, and then take it! Like a boat moving through the water vs. floating adrift, once you create forward momentum in your life you can more easily steer in the direction of your goals.
No one can give you what you deny yourself. Apply these seven simple techniques to transform your life and achieve your goals and dreams. Get out of your own way and be ready to let the universe amaze you.
About the Author
Kimberly Wiefling, M.S., is the founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, a global leadership and business management consulting firm, and the author of several management books, including Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces. A survivor of the dot-com bust, Kimberly helped to grow a dozen small businesses before "rising from the ashes" as a consultant who helps companies lead more effectively and develop successful products with greater predictability and fewer nasty surprises. Contact Kimberly at Wiefling Consulting.