Tuesday, January 05, 2010

How People Find Solutions to Their Problems

I had the pleasure this morning of conducting a videorecorded mock counseling session utilizing solution-focused methods. The DVD will accompany the second edition of a book that I'm co-editing that covers a variety of approaches to brief therapy.

I continue to find that techniques from the brief therapy literature are useful in helping traders respond to the world differently. The recorded session offered a nice example of that.

The role-played client in my counseling session was daughter Devon. She portrayed a part-time student who was working part time to make money for school and gain experience in her chosen field of fashion merchandising. Recently she had found it difficult to get herself to go to work, because of conflicts with her manager at a clothing boutique. Busy during the holiday season and understaffed, the manager was frequently stressed out, and Devon felt that the stress was taken out on her. In a recent episode, the manager criticized Devon in front of customers, making her feel stupid and upset. Those feelings of late had been interfering with Devon's schoolwork and studying. Devon tried her best to avoid the manager at those times, but that didn't work.

When I asked Devon to rate her current job on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 was the worst she could possibly feel in a job and 10 was the absolute best she could feel, she responded that the current job was a 4 or 5. I expressed surprise at the rating and asked Dev what she did on the job to make her experience a 4 or 5, instead of a 1. She then brightened up and explained that she enjoyed helping people and making them feel good and she particularly liked the creative aspects of fashion merchandising: arranging displays, helping customers find new looks, etc.

We discussed her *best* days on the job and, sure enough, they were days in which she drew upon her people strengths of engaging and helping others and her creativity in showing off clothes that the boutique had purchased.

I asked Dev if customers ever became stressed out and took it out on her, and she replied yes. But when I asked if she took it personally, she said that she didn't. Instead, she saw that the customer was frustrated by a situation (a garment didn't fit, or the customer couldn't find something she wanted), and that became a cue to help the customer out.

At the end of the session, I asked Devon if she could use her creativity and people skills in our counseling. I suggested that, when her manager became stressed out, Devon actually view the manager as a customer. Instead of avoiding the manager during such times, Devon would actually try to find out what was wrong and offer assistance.

The idea was that, instead of focusing on coping with a problem, Devon could use the situation to extend and build her skills.

It's a nice example of how skillful coaches and psychologists can help people view problem situations in new ways and find fresh solutions. Many times the answer to our problems is already occurring: during our periods of greatest fulfillment and best performance.

.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Brett ~

There is so much wisdom packed into this post that it's difficult to know where to start.

I'll settle on this:

"I suggested that, when her manager became stressed out, Devon actually view the manager as a customer. Instead of avoiding the manager during such times, Devon would actually try to find out what was wrong and offer assistance."

In two sentences you reverse the rolls! The boss becomes the customer and the employee becomes the leader... the LEADER... leading the customer (boss) toward satisfying their desires.

This is true functional leadership: the mature and judicious exercise of power.

Yes, that's right, power ~ because, despite all psycho-babble to the contrary ~ no one can lead unless they exercise power over both the situation at hand and the others in it with them. The trick is to do it with grace and with an eye on the outcome, not the immediate needs of one's ego.

What is it we say about leaders we remember fondly? "He/she served with dignity." And this is also what the best clothing salespeople do.

"The idea was that, instead of focusing on coping with a problem, Devon could use the situation to extend and build her skills."

It's refined technique, of course, but it's nearly magical how you turn a situation from which one might reflexively withdraw into one the subject could become eager to seek out: leading by serving with dignity.

The real magic, I suppose, is that exactly the technique you suggest to your "subject" here works in every sort of relationship. Every single one.

Basically, you've distilled many dozens of books about management technique into a few short paragraphs.

Grand slam, Brett. Round the bases. Wave your cap. We're all cheering.

Adam.