I was with a person in her early 20’s and I heard her repeat several times in the conversation: “That’s how I am.” Or: “I always have this problem.” Or: I can’t do that.” Or: “I don’t do that.”
“What a shame!” I thought. She has limited her life in so many ways, simply by making up her mind about what is possible and not possible for her. It’s like walking down a corridor and deliberately closing many of the doors, locking them and throwing away the key.
I say deliberately because it is a choice, but I am aware that she, and probably most of us, don’t realize that we ourselves are making these decisions at the time – often we perceive them as facts, not opinions.
The Scientific American Brain and Mind (2015 March/April), cites a large body of research that came to the following conclusions:
- Students who believe intelligence is “malleable” do better in university than those who do not.
- Partners who are convinced personality is malleable do more to resolve conflicts by looking for mutually-beneficial solutions.
- People who see “adversaries” as flexible, view them more positively.
- Minority students who decide that people’s biases can change over time may be more motivated and resilient even during negative events.
- People who are more flexible negotiators do better than their peers.
So what do you do when you notice that you or someone else have closed a bunch of doors?
First – get permission. There is little point talking to a closed door.
“Could I give you a slightly different perspective on that?” may open the door a crack.
Check again to pry it open a little wider: “I had an idea about this and I’d like to find out what you think.”
If the person expresses or shows some curiosity, now they are peeking out to see what else might be out there. Good start!
Second: State your door opening idea as a possibility or a suggestion and then give the benefit of the suggestion and the problem it solves.
I was just thinking what if you broke down this desire into some steps and put them in your calendar as “to do’s” each week (suggestion)? Then it would be clearer, what you needed to do and you could follow your plan (benefit). That way you wouldn’t be stuck in the same place any longer. (problem solved – moving away from the problem).
Last, after they have thought about it or discussed it, help them take a first step through the door. “If X were possible, I’m wondering what the first step might be.”
Example: “If you were to think about making this desire happen, what might be the first step?”
To really help someone open and pass through a door that they had closed, it is important to end on a concrete step, a procedure.
If you end a conversation on all the options, they may still be stuck, because they first have to choose which option to take.
The next time I catch myself deciding something is too difficult, not within my capabilities or not likely to happen, I will:
- Ask myself if I would like to consider another possibility (permission)
- Ask if it were possible/desirable, what would be the point (benefit) and what issue would it solve for me (problem solved and moved away from)
- What would be the first step?
Please try this out and let me know what you think!