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So what’s your Problem?

In this blog I would to consider the nature of a ‘problem’ and why GROW is so effective at dealing with problems.

In GROW terms a ‘problem’ has a particular meaning. Most people have some idea what the word ‘problem’ means for them but when we use it in connection with GROW we assign a particular meaning to the term.

SO WHAT IS A ‘PROBLEM’?

Definition of a problem

For the purposes of using GROW a problem always has two attributes. First there is a goal, purpose, idea or something a person is trying to accomplish. Secondly, there is something opposing and blocking it, which appears to prevent them doing what they want.

In order to solve a problem a person has to be clear on the elements that make it up. If either of the elements is absent then there is not a clear problem and it becomes very difficult to solve.

The value of using this definition with GROW is that the elements of a problem are automatically built into the process. The Goal is where you want to get to, the Reality is where you are, the Obstacles are what is stopping you and the Options are the ways around the Obstacles.

If you bear the definition of a problem in mind while you are working out the elements of GROW then it can assist you in ensuring you have the correct information. For instance when you get to Obstacles you have to ensure that you and the client understand how the Obstacles are stopping them from achieving their Goal. If they are not really stopping them then you don’t have a problem and the client can probably move forward.

Lets look at a few examples. The statement “My house has burned down” is not a problem. “My house has burned down I have no clothes left and I have to be on TV in 20 minutes” could be a problem. “I want to drive my car to the beach but I have a broken leg” is a problem. If, however, I can afford a taxi, it stops being a problem and turns into a ‘project’.

Thus, a problem is not like a project, where there may be obstacles but the way forward is clear and can be planned. What GROW does so effectively is to turn problems into projects.

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The Inner Game and GROW

In this blog I would like to look at how GROW is connected to the Inner Game work of Tim Gallwey.

Gallwey was a tennis coach who was frustrated by the limitations of conventional sports coaching methods. He noticed that he could often see the faults in a player’s game, but that simply telling him what to do to improve did not bring about lasting change.

For instance, if a player were not keeping his eye on the ball, most coaches would give advice such as: ‘Keep your eye on the ball.’ When a player received this sort of instruction he would try to do what the coach was asking him and watch the ball more closely. Unfortunately, no one can keep instructions in the front of their minds for long, so players usually slipped back into their old habits and both coaches and players grew increasingly frustrated.

So one day, instead of giving an instruction, Gallwey asked:

`Can you say “bounce” out loud when the ball bounces and “hit” out loud when you hit the ball?’

In order to do this, players had to keep their eyes on the ball but no longer had a voice in their heads repeating the words ‘I must keep my eye on the ball.’ At this, their play started to improve markedly and the Inner Game method of coaching was born.

From then on, whenever Gallwey wanted a player to change, he no longer gave instructions but would, instead, ask questions that would help the player discover for himself what worked and what needed to change.

The first stage in this process would be to set a target for the player. For instance, in a situation where a player was serving out a lot of the time, Gallwey would ask him how many first serves out of ten he would like to get in. In this way, together, they created a clear Goal.

Then he would ask the player to serve ten balls and see how many he got in. In this way he helped the player define his Reality.

The next stage might be to ask him to observe what he was doing differently when the serve went in from when it went out, thereby helping the player to get in touch with his Obstacles. The player for instance might observe that when he threw the ball up to a certain height it tended to go in whereas if he threw it lower it tended to go out.  Once an Obstacle was identified it became straightforward to identify Options to get around them.

In this way by really looking at what was actually happening, rather than getting stuck in trying and getting frustrated, players learnt for themselves what they needed to change in order to meet their serving targets. This gave players a clear Way Forward.

In the example using Gallwey and his tennis players, the basic methodology of GROW was present from the start.

A number of principles have been developed out of Gallwey’s experience with tennis players. While they originate from sport, the same principles can be applied to many learning situations. For example:

1        It is more effective to focus your attention on a relevant aspect of what is actually happening while you are learning, instead of what you ‘should’ be doing or trying to get it ‘right’ according to someone else’s perspective. This may seem blindingly obvious; however, in practice it rarely happens. In our tennis example the player would probably be focusing on trying to remember what the last coach said about serving and would then become more and more frustrated if his attempts at improvement did not work.

2        The best learning happens when we are focusing on the present. This means we are not struggling to prove or remember something but rather making discoveries as we go along.

3        We can easily interfere with the learning process by, for instance, trying to look good or using a lot of unfocused effort. The less we interfere with our learning, the faster we progress.

While the Inner Game was developed in sport, the coaches using it realised they could apply the principles in other learning situations. GROW was developed to provide a structured framework to use the principles of the Inner Game to achieve Goals. The originators saw that, just as in sport, many individuals were struggling to achieve their Goals because they were not learning from experience and were not aware of the knowledge within themselves that would help them.

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GROW and SCAN compared

In this blog I would like to compare GROW to another model I saw on the web for problem solving. It is called SCAN and found at www.yourtake.org

Firstly let me say that I really like the fact that this model exists on the web and it is free to use for school students. The philosophy which is written on the website espouses that students should learn to think for themselves and solve problems by using questions rather than being given answers is very laudable.

I think it is designed more as a collaborative problem-solving tool, rather than just one on one, as GROW is often used for. Also the scenarios that the students work through, all predefined with the possible points of view built in. In that way it is different from GROW where any situation can be dealt with.

Let’s have a look at it and compare it to GROW. SCAN stands for stop, clarify, ask, and now. Each of the stages as questions built in and an opportunity to summarise and others to add in a very similar way to GROW.

Where it differs is that it does not start out with the end result in mind. With GROW the first step is always to decide what you want is the end result both to solve the problem and for the session. With SCAN there is a more open agenda which is more about exploring the issues.

I have to say I prefer GROW in this respect because there is a big danger in problem solving that if you do not define in the first instance what you want is an end result you can head off in a lot of wrong directions.

In addition with SCAN there is no specific part of the process which addresses what obstacles there might be to potential solutions. This means that any ideas or action steps that might come out of the process could flounder if the obstacles have not been thought out and addressed.

Where I think SCAN could have an advantage over GROW, is a section where students are asked to think of an issue from another person’s perspective. I think this is very good training in a number of ways. Not only does it help with mental agility but it could also bring to light solutions which would not be developed otherwise. GROW comes a little close to this in the options section where the client is asked to consider how another person, who could solve this issue well, would go about it.

So they are not exactly the same and perhaps are designed for slightly different purposes. I would certainly like at some stage to produce a free version of CoachMaster my online coach training tool which uses GROW for the use of school students.

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Why we can’t do GROW for ourselves

In this blog I would like to talk about why it is so difficult for most people to apply GROW for themselves. But it is easier to apply it when working with someone else on their problem.

GROW is a ruthlessly logical process and it acts like a scalpel when you apply it to problems and challenges.

Given it is so effective and will almost always make a difference when applied with a certain level of skill to many problems and challenges why don’t more people actually use it more on their own problems?

The reason is that our minds are very complex and we create most problems because it suits us in some way to have these things as problems. That might sound a somewhat arrogant and uncaring statement so let me say more about what I mean.

The reasons we find certain issues problems is that we each have our own map of the world and which is very real to us. So if I have a big fear of confrontation that is part of my map of the world. It is real to me. I don’t like it when a situation looks like it will become a confrontation. If one comes along I will experience not like it and probably be unable to deal with it. Or possibly deal with it badly or avoid it.

Now for someone else who was brought up with the belief that confrontation was just part of life and not something to be feared such a situation may well not be seen as a problem. Possibly they would even enjoy it. So my problem simply does not exist for them.

The significance of this when helping someone with GROW is that we are trying to do two things when we use GROW on our own problems. We are on the one hand trying to solve the problem but on the other hand trying to avoid, at some level, the original issue which made it a problem in the first place.

Now another person generally does not share our map of the world. They have their own which is just as real to them as our is to us. But it is different. So as long as their map is a bit different to ours (I think if they were exactly the same it would not work!) we can help the other person because we are focusing on the problem and not trying to avoid their issue at the same time.

I think this is one of the most meaningful and effective things we can do for each other as humans.

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Creating an effective reality statement

In this blog I would like to talk about how to create an effective reality statement.

As I have often said using grow is that akin to using a map. The goal is your destination point, where you want to get too on the map.

Reality is where you currently on the map. So the more accurately you define where you are, the easier it will be to navigate to your destination.

So let’s look for a while at some examples of the sort of reality statements clients will bring you and how to change them to be more effective.

Original
‘I know some recruitment consultants’

Corrected
‘I have three recruitment consultants I know personally and who I could call up and ask for help. I know of four others but they do not know me.’

Why the corrected version is better for GROW
The second statement is specific about resources the person has and how well he/she knows them.

Original
‘I am overweight’

Corrected
”I weigh 120 pounds which is about 10lbs more than my recommended weight.’

Why the corrected version is better for GROW
Again we have specific information which is helpful in looking again at the Goal

Original
‘No one believes I have any talent’

Corrected
‘I have tried to finish the book many times but my husband and best friend tell me I cannot do it and should give up.’

Why the corrected version is better for GROW
This moves from a ‘complaint’ to the person actually saying what is going on for them when they try and finish the book. This points to Obstacles.

Original
‘My relationship is terrible’

Corrected
‘I have been with my boyfriend for 2 years and we have a major argument two or three times a week.’

Why the corrected version is better for GROW
Again there is often an initial tendency towards judgmental language which does not give useful information. The coach could probe to find out what the arguments were about.

Original
‘I am a yoyo dieter and I hate myself for it’

Corrected
‘I have lost the weight at least three times in the past but I have become very angry, eaten a lot of junk food and put on all the weight l had lost.’

Why the corrected version is better for GROW
The judgemental language often hides the facts that would be helpful in addressing the issue. The coach now knows he/she needs to build in mechanisms to cope with relapses

Original
‘My flat is a mess and I can’t seem to clear it up’

Corrected
‘I have tried to clear out my cupboards three times in the last two years but given up each time’.

Why the corrected version is better for GROW
With the new information the coach can immediately start to think about strategies for making the clearing up more successful.

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When not to use GROW

I have noticed that when people first to learn the GROW model they sometimes become a bit evangelical and assume that it can be used in all circumstances and situations.

While GROW is probably the best known coaching model in the world today, and does have a multitude of uses there are circumstances where I would recommend that it is not used. These are:

1) When there is not sufficient trust between the coach and client. If for instance the coach is also the client’s boss and the client believes that if he or she admits to a fault then it will be used against them. Or if the client believes the content of the coaching will be reported negatively to their boss. In these cases, coaching using GROW, or any other method, will go nowhere. If you notice that a coaching session seems to be going round in circles this is often the cause because it appears that the client is cooperating but there is an underlying agenda.

What should the coach do – stop the coaching session and address the real issue with the client honestly. If this is done genuinely then it is possible to get the coaching back on track. But it requires a high degree of honesty and authenticity from the coach and client. Alternatively have the client see another coach if possible.

2) If the client is incapable of self reflecting and analysing how they might be contributing to the situation or if the client is very determined to blame others for the situation.

What should the coach do – again stopping trying to do GROW and addressing what you see happening is the best way forward here. You need to be able to do it in a way where the client does not feel blamed themselves though. This can be tough if you have been going round in circles for a bit. Another option is to use humour and exaggeration. E.g. “So you are saying your boss has such control over you there is nothing you can do to influence him/her?” But you must be confident that you can hit the right tone and not dip into sarcasm.

3) When the client is in a very fragile emotional state and needs strong emotional support rather than the coaching type support provided by GROW

What should the coach do – the answer is fairly self evident. The coach should refer the client on to a trusted therapist and not try and coach the client when they need something else.

4) Where the client is tackling a problem that they have attempted many times before and failed. The reasons for this are that the client is sometimes so frustrated with the experience they are no longer capable of analysing what is happening with GROW and they need some other kind of support. I came across this quite a few times when I was coaching individuals who wished to lose weight.

What should the coach do – if you sense the client’s frustration stop trying to use GROW and give them the opportunity to talk honestly about how they feel about the issue. Sometimes clearing the feelings allows the client to let go of the past and look at the issue afresh.

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The differences between real Obstacles and justifications.

The differences between real Obstacles and justifications.

When people first start to use GROW they often get stuck in the obstacles section because they do not understand the difference between an ‘real’ obstacle that is stopping the client moving forward and a justification of the client’s position. So in this entry I will give you the different definitions and suggest ways of separating the two issues.

It may seem ridiculous to suggest that an Obstacle is not real. If a person has a fear it is certainly real to them. But Obstacles can be real or imagined, and the imaginary ones can feel just as hard and heavy as the genuine article.

For the purposes of the GROW process we define an Obstacle as something that stops us moving towards our Goal. A justification, on the other hand, is a belief we have about ourselves or the world. Justifications come from our history and are an attempt to protect ourselves from repeating bad experiences.

The GROW process is very useful when dealing with justifications because it highlights when an Obstacle is not real.

By ourselves our minds go all over the place trying to find a Way Forward which will avoid pain and difficulty. By systematically addressing each Obstacle and asking if it is really stopping us, we are able to deal with them more effectively.

The Obstacle or justification test

Here is a test which you can use to see if an Obstacle is real for you.

The exercise is made up of just three questions that you can use to test whether you are confronting a real Obstacle or a justification. Once you have something you suspect might be an Obstacle you can apply the tests to see if it is a real block or a justification.

Test 1: Is it a global statement?

What we mean by ‘global’ in the context of GROW is that we do not know what it refers to. Justifications tend to be global, or universal, blockers. Once you know what a statement refers to, you can question whether it is correct. Leaving it open means it cannot be questioned, which is our hidden purpose when making justifications!

You can test whether your justification is global by asking, ‘What does that mean?’ at the end of the statement.

Test 2: Is there a way round this?

There is no way round a justification. If we accept that it is true it becomes an insurmountable Obstacle which stops any progress towards a Goal dead in its tracks. If it was a real Obstacle, then the way round it would be obvious.

Test 3: Is it a real Obstacle?

Justifications do not represent clear Obstacles to achieving a Goal. This can be tested by asking, ‘How does that stop me achieving my Goal?’

Lets take an example of someone who is unhappy in their job and wants a new one but when you work through GROW with them they come up with the statement – ‘I am too old’ as one of their Obstacles.

Let’s apply the three tests.

Test 1: Is it a global statement?

‘If you are too old, what does that mean?’ Once the person properly considers the question they are often better able to identify the fears that lay behind the statement, often that they will be rejected or not given a chance.

Test 2: Is there a way round this?

There is no way around an age. It is a statement of fact.

Test 3: Is it a real Obstacle?

If the Goal is to identify alternative careers or getting a new job, then it is not clear how being ‘too old’ stops the client from doing this. While it is possible that there may be jobs that have an agelimit, until the client has completed the first step of identifying the career they want they will never find out whether their age is a true block.

So, having applied all three tests, the example comes out as a justification rather than a real Obstacle.

Another simpler test is to imagine you were to be offered one million pounds for facing the fear you were avoiding. Regardless of the result, you would get a million for doing it.

Would you still be holding back or would you be making that call? If a large enough reward is sufficient incentive for you to face the fear, the chances are that it is not a ‘real’ Obstacle which is really stopping you moving forward. You might need some creative Options to deal with fear and provide the necessary motivation but that can be dealt with.

Justifications are not completely irrelevant.

They may well indicate a genuine fear. It is worth bearing in mind that they are there for a purpose – to keep us from experiencing pain, difficulty and frustration. But until we name them and address them for what they are they can have the effect of keeping us immobile.

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Using GROW for weight loss and fitness goals

GROW and Weight Loss

Weight loss and fitness are two of the most common goals individuals struggle with in their daily lives.

It occurred to me that no one had done any research as to whether GROW could be used in this context so I decided to do a small study.  I asked about 12 people to work with me on their weight loss and fitness goals using GROW as a basis for the discussion.

I created a written version of GROW where they were asked to fill in the answers to the various sections by themselves with questions hints and advice built in to each section to help them.

This was followed up by a phone session where I went through their answers.  What I discovered in doing the sessions was very interesting.  Out of the 12 people I don’t think anyone was able to really get down to the real obstacles by themselves.  Many of the obstacles people were coming up with were along the lines of “I have no self discipline” or “I am not motivated”.  Statements like this often arise after individuals have made many attempts to achieve a goal and failed many times.  They are a kind of rationalisation of the failures.

If a coach were to accept these at face value they would be stumped.  Because as they stand they are general, vague statements which cannot be dealt with. When I gave the phone session we went into what individuals really meant by such statements.  The real meaning was usually that they would have to give up something that was important to them if they continued with dieting.  That might have been comfort food, the chance to relax or sharing some experience with others – like a glass of wine.

Once we had identified the real obstacle it was not so difficult to start planning ways around it which took account of the original need but found a different way of satisfying it.  All the individuals in the study reported that identifying the real obstacle was a relief in itself as they now understood why they were having so much difficulty.  And once they understood the obstacle they were able to plan around it.

So the lessons for the coach are to ensure you really understand how any particular obstacle stops a client achieving their goal.  If you don’t the chances are they do not either!

In my next blog we will be looking at the differences between real obstacles and justifications.

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GROW model – just focussing on the obstacles

This is my first blog entry on how to solve problems using the grow model.

I was talking to one of my clients today and she had an issue of how to plan a project which she had to complete with the co-operation of a lot of people.

She had not systematically broken down the project into a grow process. The reason was that she was more concerned with some of the interpersonal issues that might come up between her and her colleagues as she implemented the project.

I have often seen at this happen. When a person is very concerned about the potential impact of a goal or project they forget to do the planning because all their attention is focused on making sure they do not hit the obstacle they are anticipating. In fact sometimes people will completely forget about things if they are really concerned about an obstacle.

I suggested to her that we should plan together using GROW. It never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is to deal with somebody else’s problems than my own. However this means we are all in the position of being able to help other people simply because we have a different perspective.

So we started from square one with the desired results from the project and worked through to the obstacles. When we looked at a particular group that she was so concerned about it was not difficult to find ways around the issue.

In the next entry I will be looking at some of the issues of weight loss and GROW.

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What this blog is about

This is my first blog entry about using the grow model to solve problems.

I have been working with the grow model for many years and have found it to be a great way to solve many different kinds of problems and teach others how to do the same.

What is interesting and unique about grow is that it is possible with just a little understanding to make progress on a wide selection of problems. Even if you do not know how to solve them yourself.

With each blog entry I will be explaining about how the process works or looking at actual examples of how the model can be applied.

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