There’s an improv exercise I love called Fortunately/Unfortunately. A handful of people stand in a circle and move a storyline forward by adding information as players alternate between fortunately and unfortunately mindset statements. It might go something like this:
- (Player 1) Fortunately, I won the lottery.
- (Player 2) Unfortunately, it was only $1,000.
- (Player 3) Fortunately, that was enough to throw a big birthday party.
- (Player 4) Unfortunately, no one came.
- (Player 5) Fortunately, I got to eat all the cake myself.
- (Player 6) Unfortunately, it made you sick.
You get the idea. After several times around the circle and the story going off on wild tangents — as it always does — there is a fascinating discussion about which position you liked the best: the fortunately or the unfortunately stance. That inevitably leads to a broader conversation around how you approach the world: as in a more glass-half-full mindset (the fortunately folks) or more glass-half-empty mindset (the unfortunately folks). Perspective (your unique point of view) tends to play a significant role in this conversation.
Perspective also tends to play a large role in the executive coaching conversations that I have. Those of us who have done this work for years know that coaching is not about telling people what to do; it’s about giving them a chance to examine what they are doing in light of their intentions. That may sound like a straightforward statement, but I assure you that the act of examining your intentions is anything but straight. Or forward.
Our individual intentions are convoluted and messy and based on belief systems years in the making. And it is those belief systems that create your unique mindset, which is the lens through which you perceive the world. And the world is a mighty big place. Or I guess it could be small. That, too, depends on your perspective.
The heart of any coaching engagement lives in the art of that conversation around perspective. The rich dialogue draws the mindset to the surface to be examined from multiple angles allowing for a more robust understanding. Perspective takes us far beyond the simple dichotomy of “I see it this way” and “you see it that way.” It introduces the notion that between two ends of a scale, there is a spectrum of understanding. And scattered all along this continuum are points of view that may not have been previously considered. We tend to forget that our perspective is just that — ours. Others have equally important perspectives — theirs. The coaching conversation tends to give all of these points of view the airtime that they need.
If I’ve learned anything over the years in thousands of hours in coaching conversations, it is this: all humans face the same issues, just in varying magnitudes and in different sequencing. I know this to be true because I will be asked at some point in every coaching conversation: “am I the only one that (fill in the blank)…?” And the answer is always “no.” No, you’re not the only one. And that response appears to be equally comforting and shocking. I’m continually reminded that we are all far more alike than we are different.
But what is not the same for all humans — and not by a long shot — is what it sounds like when we move through these conversations. Each narrative is incredibly personal, every emotion is nuanced, and epiphanies are unique to that individual alone. Every life has a distinctive soundtrack. Every recording is vocalized from a singular vantage point.
The conversation creates the place to reconcile a perspective. And perspective matters — fortunately and unfortunately.
Ancora Imparo… (Still, I am learning)
Stacey Mason is the founder of The Improv Lab, a professional development business in Bentonville. More information is available by calling 479-877-0131. The opinions expressed are those of the author.