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Expanding the View: Identifying a Neutral Topic
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown
Coaching for Transformation
When a client voices a disempowering viewpoint, the first step is to separate the viewpoint from the topic. Expanding the View works best when we are crystal clear about the topic the client is exploring. This is a crucial part of the process, so we do not skip this step. Our clients are about to shatter long-held beliefs, so meaningful, clearly-defined topics help them focus.
Starting with the simple examples below, let’s separate the topic from the viewpoint, just like diagramming a sentence. The goal is to separate the topic from the opinion about the topic.
Looking at the topics in the chart, we notice that clients could have any number of possible viewpoints about that topic besides the one they are currently holding. Once we help them pull topics apart from their viewpoints, they may see other possibilities emerge.
Often the statements are as clear as the examples above and it is easy to separate the topic from the disempowering viewpoint. And sometimes people feel so anxious about their situation that coming to a clear topic may take some unearthing. We can ask, “What are you wanting to explore?” or “What is important here?” or “What is at the center of this?” We can guess the topic and listen for how it resonates with the client. When there is more than one potential topic, we help the client choose the one that is most important now. We may start out focused in one area but as we move through the session, it may become clear that another topic is more relevant. By staying open, the topic can shift .
For example, Shana started out thinking her issues were all about her job, but then it started to look more like the topic was about freedom or commitment. All the topics may be important, so we help clients choose the one that has the most energy.
The following chart shows possible topics and viewpoints that might emerge from the presenting statement. In some cases, it takes more exploration to uncover the topic and viewpoint.
In each case, we can tell the speaker feels disempowered, but we may not see the topic immediately. Topics do not include:
Neutral topics contribute to the power of Expanding the View process. If the client begins with a topic called “my bad relationship with my father,” there is nowhere empowering to go with it. The viewpoint is embedded in the topic. Imagine coming up with empowering viewpoints around the topic of “my bad relationship with my father,” and compare it with the topic of “my relationship with my father.”
Choosing the exact name for the topic isn’t vital because the topic may change, but we name it clearly, so we can refer to it later.
With new clients, we can ask if they want to shift their current viewpoint and if they are willing to try on and embody other ways of looking at the issue. This lets them know what we are doing and gets them to take responsibility for the direction of the coaching.
Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.
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