Purposeful vs. Positive Thinking: It’s Not All Buttercups and Butterflies

Your team has acknowledged their positive thinking during the session. Still, among some of the team – the realists – grudging acceptance of positive thinking comes with, ‘but…’, or politely, ‘I need time to think about this.’Purposeful vs. Positive Thinking, Solution Focus_2

There’s growing acceptance in organizations that positive thinking is useful. The move towards it seems to driven by the other growing realization that focusing on problems is at least unpleasant, frustrating, and mostly unproductive.

Unfortunately, positive thinking is often embraced superficially.  And, as Jim Duval used to say in his SFBT training, ‘Solution Focus isn’t all buttercups and butterflies.’

Positive thinking is also under attack on the non-organizational side of things, e.g., What’s Wrong With Positive Thinking?* This, despite the growing body of research that shows positive thinking is useful and helps.

Hence, the realist’s brief non-sustainable engagement with the notion of being positive.

So, how do we move forward with positive thinking? Change the language.  

Try ‘purposeful thinking.’

In Solution Focus we help people reframe things in ways that are useful to them. We also use language that is understood and accepted by them.

So far, in hundreds of interactions with clients, I’ve never heard anyone say one word against ‘purposeful.’ If anything, it seems to take the pressure off of doing something so counterintuitive to organizations and people – being positive.

Corporations are social organizations, the theater in which men and women realize or fail to realize purposeful and productive lives. – Lester Bangs

Steps to help teams or clients embrace purposeful thinking:

As always, be patient – help them sort out the mess of problems they’ve created in their minds.

Ask the usual questions: When is it not a problem? On a scale of 1-10 where are we now and what would it take to move up the scale? Suppose we are successful, what would we see ourselves doing?

Build ‘purposeful’ into your questions. Suppose the purpose of our project became clear to us and we moved forward, what would success look like in x months from now? Suppose the customers became used to us being purposefully helpful to them, what would they see us doing? Suppose the outcome of the team’s work was purposefully helpful to the other teams, how would that be useful to them?  

The idea that everything is purposeful really changes the way you live. To think that everything that you do has a ripple effect, that every word that you speak, every action that you make affects other people and the planet. – Victoria Moran

In the bigger picture, this might allow your colleagues or client to ask themselves, what’s our purpose as an organization? But that’s another topic, for another post.

*Tamar Chansky. What’s Wrong With Positive Thinking?

Leaders: 12 ways to ask better questions in 2013

Wondering why last year, good things happened but your performance was just ‘OK’? Was it because many of the things that needed to change remained unchanged?

It’s not leadership style. It’s the questions.

Wondering how to leverage your leadership style in a more productive way?

Wondering how you might better lead in letting your people to make the change happen?

Have you considered…

Changing the way you ask your questions?

Asking people not to bring you their problems, but to bring you their solutions instead?

Not addressing people’s questions with your own solutions?

Helping people clarify the problem by asking what they want to be different?

Asking people to think about the solution they want to create and own?

Being candid – saying difficult things and motivating people to get something done?

Acknowledging people’s idea and asking how it will be, a) useful to others, and b) how they plan to collaborate on the implementation?

Asking how to make people’s ideas fit within the strategy that others are working on?

Getting people to think about the outcomes for their solutions, not just the tactics?

Asking for solutions beyond people’s silos that will work for the customer?

Acting as a coach or mentor vs. a prescriber?

Support people in developing their own productive solutions by asking…

What’s worked until now?

What do you plan to do differently?

What small steps do you see yourself taking to make progress?

In support of this solution focused approach to better questions … change our assumptions about change (Coert Visser)…

If you’d like to help people run better meetings at which these questions are used to help make them be better engaged, productive and creating solutions, try my book Monkey-Free Meetings

“I’ve tried Kay’s Solution-Focus approach in a couple of cauldrons – Operationally, and Board-level Strategic Planning – and it never fails as a remedy against the paralysis of problem-indulgence.” Ray Verdon, Board Director, Canada