Tuesday, 30 June 2009


Psychology is a fascinating subject and I love bringing it to life for people with real world examples. Otherwise what's the point? Last week I went into a UK financial institution and coached several groups on the art of 'courageous conversations' (giving feedback to their managers, speaking up when something's not right, challenging accepted ways of doing things etc). A key part of successful conversations of this nature, as with many human-human interactions, is being able to see the world from the other person's perspective and being able to exercise 'unconditional positive regard' (a term associated with Carl Rogers, a founder of the humanistic movement which essentially says it's helpful if we seek to see people in the best light possible).

Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist famed for the development of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, gave us another tool which can help us interpret people and their behaviour in a positive way: reframing.

I talked through these ideas using a personal story not at all related to their work in finance (but that's the power of story - and it made them laugh and lighten up) but about life as a parent with a preschooler learning how (not) to share. So here's the story of how I missed the opportunity to have generous positive regard and reframe the behaviour of another mother.

My ever inquisitive, gregarious son who's nearly three decided he'd like to check out another kid's scooter parked at a picnic bench near ours in the park. I watch him approach and lug my not-so-light-anymore baby daughter over with me to smooth the situation with the po-faced grandmother and mother of scooter owner. To cut a long story short the grandmother told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn't for him to play on and when I mentioned me working on teaching my son to share the mother told me not to tell her how to bring her kids up. Whoah, back up there lady I thought. If only I'd kept it to a thought. Can't remember my actual words but something along the lines of not needing to come on so strong and a gentle reminder that my son is not yet 3. Isn't curiosity to be expected of them at this age? Perhaps her son is too dull to think about exploring other people's stuff without mummy by his side. Oooh, I can feel the red mist coming down again! Calm down Mrs Chivers.

So the point of my story? If I'd chosen to reframe her behaviour as I coach people to do(imagine as many different ways possible to reinterpret her behaviour until I came up with an alternative that didn't cause me to get het up - like her husband having just died or her having just lost her job or going through cold turkey after coming off methodone - not that it was that sort of park you understand) then I wouldn't have spent the next two hours mulling it over, telling anyone who'd listen how I'd been wronged and making that my welcome home speech when my husband walked in the door. Then again, it did make a great story for my coachees.

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