He had worked with a disruptive teenager who was in danger of being thrown out of school. The teenager repeatedly got into fights. Bill had no idea what to do with this boy and to make matters worse he was due to see another boy with the same behaviour problems in a few days.
He asked the first boy what advice he could give to the new teenager to help him change his behaviour.
“He’s got to think before he acts!”.
“But what if he can’t, something happens and he doesn’t have time to think?”
“Then he’s got to count to ten, take a deep breath and think about the consequences of his actions that he might get kicked out of school or disappoint his parents”
Bill thanked him and passed on this suggestion to the second teenager – who was completely unimpressed.
When he saw the first teenager again he hadn’t got into any fights or been thrown out of school. Bill asked him what was different.
“Well people bumped me but all I did was count to ten, take a deep breath and think about what would happen if I got into a fight”
In short, he had followed his own advice.
By inviting the first teenager to give advice for someone else in the same situation Bill had tapped into the boy’s own reservoir of resources and wisdom.
Bill adopted this as one of his techniques. A few minutes later we were given an exercise to use some of the techniques that Bill had just described. Now it was our turn to try this technique out.
We sat in a small group humming and haahing the way workshop participants do when they don’t want to volunteer anything too personal. I finally offered that I had trouble doing the book work, handling receipts, accounts and all the rest of the drudge minutiae of managing a business.
(I know some of you out there may like that sort of thing, but I don’t, it’s a challenge for me.)
The members of the group started offering suggestions and asking questions, some of which were helpful, some not.
Then the woman on my left said to me: “I have a friend who really struggles to do her books. What would you say to her?”
I heard a voice in my head, as clear as a bell, say:
“Why don’t you just get on and do it?”
It was a flash of the blindingly obvious: “Why don’t I just get on and do it?”
The people around me talked on, offered more suggestions and ideas, but I didn’t pay much attention.
“Why don’t I just get on and do it?”
I thanked her for her words of wisdom and sat back marvelling at how simple that had been.
All it took was a moment to step outside myself and suggest a solution to the same difficulty for someone else to find some wisdom about the situation.
So if someone comes to you with some problem or difficulty. Here is one way to help them that is both simple and respectful.
When they tell you about their problem. Say: “I have a friend who has … (whatever the problem is). What advice would you give them?”
Let them tell you what their advice to your (imaginary) friend would be.
They may, or may not, have a flash of the blindingly obvious as I did, or they might need to chew on it for a while.
From the helper’s point of view it’s simple. You don’t need to think too hard about what to say because they are doing all the hard work for you. The advice is more likely to be relevant and effective because it comes from them.
If you have a problem you could ask someone to ask you the same question. I think it helps to have someone on the outside asking the question about somebody else, it makes it easier to be wise.
You could, at a pinch, ask yourself the same question and see what happens.
You might be wondering, did it work? Am I just getting on with it.
Funnily enough I have just been getting on with it. I don’t think I’m going to become an accountant any time soon, but it’s definitely better than it was.
Photo courtesy of laughlin