Blog by Alan Seale, November 15, 2021 | Transformational Leadership
As our world becomes increasingly complex and confounding, the tendency towards convenience, quick fixes, sound-bite solutions, and short-term gratification is stronger than ever. However, this does not serve us in the long term. In fact, it could be our undoing. There is another way. We can shift from being reactive to being proactive. We can pause in the face of challenge to discover bigger-picture perspectives, longer-term views, and the opportunities that they present to us now. And so, here are eight powerful coaching questions to cut through complexity and get to what really matters for today and for a creating a healthy and thriving world going forward.
Two Minutes of Preparation
Before asking these questions, take two minutes to prepare. Take a deep and full breath. And then maybe another one. Then breathe deep into your belly, and then into your heart. It’s not about trying to “get out of your head,” but rather about expanding beyond analytical thinking into the larger intuitive mind. Your intuitive mind is a field of energy centered in your heart and belly that encompasses your entire being. The intellectual or rational/analytical mind (in your head) is just one small part of the much larger intuitive mind. The intellectual mind alone will not carry us forward into a world that works for all. Working from the larger intuitive mind is essential for a sustainable future.
In Transformational Presence, we start from the perspective that both challenges and opportunities carry messages and invitations. We trust that there is a wisdom or an intelligence within what is happening that we can partner with to find our way forward. It will not necessarily be obvious—it may, in fact, be well hidden—yet it is there. The ancient wisdom Principle of Polarity tells us that nothing can exist unless its opposite is also present. In practical terms, that means that a challenge cannot exist unless a path forward is also present. Therefore, we work with the energy of the situation instead of resist it.
The eight questions below can help you engage your larger intuitive mind and sense the important information and messages hidden within what is happening. Some of these questions will be helpful in any situation. Others may not fit for every circumstance; however, it never hurts to check. What makes these questions powerful? They are simple, direct, and to the point. Approaching complex situations or topics with complex questions does not serve. Complex questions tend to engage only the intellectual/analytical mind. You risk getting caught up in talking and talking and talking yet never cutting through to the core. Intellectual analyzing is an outside-in process. Transformation, on the other hand, is an inside-out process. It starts with a shift in a core belief, perception, or understanding. These eight powerful questions stretch you beyond intellect to engage your larger intuitive mind, cut to the essence of what is happening, and work from the inside out. They are profound in their simplicity, often uncovering many layers of new insight, awareness, and understanding.
The questions are equally effective for self-coaching, individual or team coaching, leadership, parenting, and encouraging big-picture critical intuitive thinking. Start with asking the questions in the order presented below so you get to know them. Then going forward, you will be able to choose the specific questions that will serve you the most in the moment. Take another deep breath into your belly and your heart. And here we go.
Drop down under the surface of what is happening. What is this situation really about?
Complex situations and circumstances are often fluid with a lot going on at the same time. They usually have many layers, each of which may have its own story. Yet if you pause to anchor yourself in your belly and heart, take a step back, and open to your larger intuitive mind, you can begin to sense down through the layers to discover what the situation is really about. So, take another breath. Imagine that you can drop down underneath the situation to sense it from a deeper, quieter perspective. There may be a lot of story and confusion at the surface. And often the story or confusion is a reaction to something deeper. Instead of judging or trying to figure it out, simply drop down underneath it. Or take a step back from it. What do your intuitive senses tell you this is really about?
The more complex the situation, the more layers there are likely to be. Each layer will give you another perspective or another piece of information. After dropping through several layers, pause to reflect on what you are discovering. What do you sense is important to pay attention to? Allow yourself some time here, even if it takes a bit longer than you would like. Your discoveries in this first question can open the door for the questions that follow.
What is the driving force behind what is happening?
This question is ultimately about motivations and intentions. Perhaps there are or were good intentions or motivations behind your situation. As circumstances unfold, sometimes those intentions and motivations get lost and it’s time to bring them back to the forefront. At other times, what started out as a good intention or motivation gets derailed and creates unexpected outcomes that are not what you had hoped for. What is important to notice?
On the other hand, there may be hidden agendas or unspoken yet self-serving intentions at work behind the scenes. Is everyone involved operating in good faith towards a greater good? This can be an uncomfortable question to ask and even more uncomfortable to answer. Yet depending on your situation, it may be important to clarify intentions, be honest about what is really going on, acknowledge what is working and what is not working, and make clear choices for next steps. Pointing fingers and looking for someone to blame will cost you time and energy. Instead, choose where to focus your attention and energy and move forward in the most constructive and effective way possible, at least as you understand that for now.
What is this situation trying to tell us/me? (Beyond the obvious)
Things happen for a reason. You may or may not understand those reasons at this moment, yet when you step beyond trying to figure the situation out (as in how to solve it) and instead treat what is happening as a message asking for your attention, you have a better chance of gaining insight. Some messages might be obvious, yet there may be more to the situation than meets the eye. Take another step back, and then another breath into your belly and heart. What is your gut sense about what is happening? Let your heart show you the bigger context for what is going on in this moment. Again, there may be many layers. You’ll discover some of them now; others may not be uncovered right away. Trust that as you remain diligent in your exploration and stay in your larger intuitive mind, you’ll uncover the deeper layers in the right moment.
What wants to happen?
Notice that the question is not, “What do you want?” This question asks you to listen to the bigger context to sense and feel what wants to happen in service of a greater good—in service of something bigger than you or your group. The answer to this question might be a simple step or action to take; it might also be so big that it feels impossible to reach. It’s okay. Take a breath and let what wants to happen talk to you. Ask it to show you a next step. You may not yet fully see how you are going to get to that ultimate what wants to happen, and that’s okay. That’s not how it works in complex situations. You are more likely to find each next step or steps as they come.
What direction is the energy trending toward right now? Is that trend serving what wants to happen—the bigger picture? If so, what is important to pay attention to? And if not, what is it asking for from me/us to shift the energy?
Everything is energy in motion. Energy is always either expanding or contracting, getting stronger and coming together or losing focus and falling apart. Paying attention to these trends is important for recognizing what is truly serving what wants to happen and what isn’t. If you sense that things are moving in a direction that serves a greater good, then let that energy show you what it needs from you to keep moving forward. And if the direction doesn’t feel right, what does the situation need from you to shift the energy into a new direction? Again, remember to keep your focus on what wants to happen. That may not always be what you want for your personal interests, yet you recognize that it’s what will serve a greater good.
What is the situation asking for from me/us now? How is it asking me/us to show up? What role is it asking me/us to play?
Pause and take three slow, deep, and full breaths. Bring your attention to your belly and heart once again. Let your discoveries from the previous questions help you sense what the situation is asking for from you now. How is it asking you to show up? Perhaps it’s asking you to be courageous or honest or creative or playful or to take a risk. Maybe it’s asking you to pay attention to what is happening in a different way or to shift your perspective. It might be asking to you take a particular step in one direction or another, or on the contrary, to pause and wait while something else comes into place. What role are you being asked to play, at least for now? That may change over time, yet you start with where you are.
What am I / are we learning?
It’s easy to get caught up in guilt or blame for what you should or should not have done. Or for what you should have known or recognized. That will cost you time and energy. Instead, put your focus on what the situation is asking you to learn. What is new for you here? Notice what shifts inside of you when you focus on new insight and awareness and let it guide you. Take away labels of good/bad, right/wrong. Focus on what you are learning, on the role that this moment is asking you to play, and on how you are called to show up most effectively. And then go for it.
Finally, what is the next step?
Too often, we bypass the above questions and go straight to “What do we do now?” Yet if we do, we miss a lot of important information—information that could inform our choices and decisions and help us move forward in the most efficient, effective, and productive ways. The more you practice engaging the intuitive mind and listening through your belly and heart as your starting place for these questions, the more quickly you can learn how to sense and hear the messages that are waiting for you. With practice, you can develop your ability to gather information quickly, sense the role you are to play, identify your next steps, and begin moving forward proactively.
It’s a Practice
The key to all of this is practice. Asking these questions may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. You may feel like there is not enough time. Yet the truth may be that you can’t afford not to take the time. So, practice first on situations that are not so critical. Practice when things are going well, and when new opportunities arise. For most people, this is a new approach. It takes time and practice to build and expand your capacities for perception, awareness, understanding, and clear focused action. It takes time and practice to develop your intuitive intelligence. Yet I promise it will serve you beyond measure. Let these eight questions help you get started.