The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Clear Contracting For Continuing To Improve Professional Relationships

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During the 1970s I learned from many pioneers who ran programmes in family therapy. One of the key concepts they used was that of clear contracting.

They helped the family members to make agreements about their life together. These included how they behaved towards each other, their individual responsibilities and their goals as a family.

Clear contracting can be used in many contexts. Imagine that you have been asked to facilitate a session for individuals who want to develop their working relationship.

The following pages provide a framework you can use to help them to continue doing good work. You can, if appropriate, use similar principles to help individuals or teams to develop their personal or professional relationships.

Clear Contracting – Clarifying
The Picture of Success

Clarity is crucial in any relationship. This is especially so when professionals are working together to achieve a common goal.

Let’s assume the people you are helping have some idea of the results they need to deliver. It can be useful, however, to start the session by revisiting the agreed picture of success.

Great workers spend a lot of time clarifying the real results they want to achieve. They also focus on the benefits of achieving these aims. They agree on the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’ before moving on to the ‘How’.

Sometimes people skip the ‘What’ and start arguing about the ‘How’. It is then important to bring them back to agreeing on the overall picture of success.

There are many models for ensuring people agree on the aims. If appropriate, you can invite people to revisit the following themes. This can help to set the context and enable people to deliver success.

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Let’s assume the people you are working with are agreed on the picture of success. You can help them to develop their working relationship by exploring the following theme.

Building On The Best

Begin by helping people to build on what they are doing well in the relationship. People like to feel they are doing some things right. You can encourage them to highlight some of these themes.

There are many models for making this happen. When working with family therapy, for example, we used to invite the family members:

To describe the specific times when they had encouraged each other and enjoyed good times together.

To describe the specific things they did right then – the principles they followed – to have good times together.

To describe the specific things they could do to follow these principles and encourage each other in the future.

This exercise did not provide a panacea, but it did help to build an encouraging environment. People recognised they were able to support each other, listen and create good times.

If appropriate, you can use a similar approach to help people to develop their working relationship. You can invite them to focus on the good things they want to take forward from the past.

As with all these exercises, it can be useful to invite people to do these as homework before the session. This enables them to spend some quality time reflecting and clarifying their ideas.

This approach leads to people being more thoughtful and constructive in their ideas. They have more chance to prepare properly and consider how to build the relationship.

This can more effective than people suddenly being put on the spot during a session. People can then be affected by body language or the tone that others use in a session.

Certainly this is the case when working with introverts. They prefer to think by themselves, rather than take part in brainstorms or suddenly come up with great ideas.

Whatever kinds of people you work with, it can be useful to give them time to prepare. They are then more likely to succeed.

People produce a wide variety of ideas when focusing on the good things they want to take forward from the past. Here are some of the things that individuals have said.

The specific things I would like us to keep doing
– and maybe do more in the future – are:

To keep meeting every Friday to plan the week ahead.

To keep getting the encouragement you give me when I do good work.

To keep the routine of me being able to work from home one day a week – providing I keep delivering the agreed outcomes.

To keep our quarterly lunch at a restaurant when I get the chance to talk about what is happening in my work and my career plans.

To keep focusing on the real results to achieve and make decisions that will help us to achieve the agreed picture of success.

You can, of course, use other methods for helping people to do this exercise. Whatever approach you use, however, invite people to state what they as individuals would like to see taken forward into the future.

People can complete the exercise and, when appropriate, share their ideas. They can return to these when making clear contracts later in the session. Here is the exercise.

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Adding Other Things

Imagine that people have spent some time exploring the good things they want to take forward from the past.

You can, when appropriate, move on to the next exercise that people will have prepared. This invites the individuals to focus on:

The specific things I would like us to add,
develop or do differently in the future

You will notice several things about the wording of the exercise. The exercise invites individuals:

To take ownership for making suggestions.

To put these ideas in a positive form – rather than simply telling the other person they must change.

To put the ideas in the form of a request or positive suggestion.

This approach works well with people who are working as peers within or across teams. The emphasis may change, however, if the suggestions come from a manager to a team member.

The request may then sometimes take the form of inviting the team member to decide if they are prepared to deliver certain professional standards. If not, then there may be implications.

There is another key point regarding the exercise. A person can include the things they want to do regarding their own behaviour in the future. This is in addition to how they would like to see things develop in the joint professional relationship.

People produce a wide variety of ideas when doing this exercise. Here are some of the things that individuals have said.

The specific things I would like us to add,
develop or do differently in the future are:

To, regarding myself, double check that I have communicated clearly – because sometimes I assume that I have communicated properly and I haven’t. 

To, regarding myself, spend more time using my strengths and find ways to manage the consequences of my weaknesses – because this will bring benefits to the business.

To, regarding myself, make sure that I give positive suggestions to people – rather than sometimes simply react to how they behave. 

To work with you on making the office more user-friendly and creating places where people can, if they wish, work alone on pieces of work.

To encourage people in our teams to, if possible, spend more time working in our client’s offices and helping those clients to succeed.

To ensure that we always give people context and manage by outcomes rather than by tasks – because this will enable them to use their talents to deliver the goods.

To act quickly if we find we have hired somebody who acts in an unprofessional way.

To ensure you and I spend time together at the beginning and end of each week to continue to be able to plan ahead.

To ensure we publish three success stories each month that show how people in our teams have helped customers to achieve their goals.  

People can complete the exercise and, when appropriate, share their ideas. They can return to these when making clear contracts later in the session. Here is the exercise.

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Making Clear Contracts

Imagine that people have spent some time exploring the previous two sections. They can then move on to making clear contracts about the future.

Looking back on the work with families, we found that people made contracts about both the physical and psychological aspects of family life. They agreed, for example, on the specific things that individuals would do:

To take responsibility for doing the daily chores.

To encourage each other in their daily lives. 

To express their feelings in helpful rather than unhelpful ways.

To try to find win-win solutions to challenges.

To spend quality time together but also to encourage individuals to pursue their own interests, providing they did not hurt other people.

Good parents are positive, predictable and create an environment in which people can grow. Good organisations embody similar qualities. They create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance.

Clear contracting plays a key part. People are more likely to flourish in environments that are clear and give them an opportunity to develop.

Let’s return to the people you may be helping to develop their professional relationship. If you wish, you can invite them to do the following things.

To reflect on the specific suggestions regarding the good things they want to take forward and the things they want to add, develop or do differently.

To explore each topic in turn and agree on each person’s responsibilities in fulfilling their part of the contract. 

To agree on a date when they will meet again to revisit the contracts to check: a) The things they are doing well regarding the contracting; b) The things they can do better and how.

To remind themselves of the benefits of following the agreed contracts.

If appropriate, you can invite people to do the final exercise on this theme. As mentioned above, this invites them to describe the specific topics about which they would like to make clear contracts.

People can agree on their respective responsibilities regarding fulfilling the contracts. They can then translate the ideas into action and continue to develop their professional relationship.

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    P is for The Positive Approach To: “This Too Shall Pass”

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    Looking back on your life, when have you reminded yourself of this philosophy?

    You may have been dealing with pain or tackling a tough challenge. Alternatively, you may have been enjoying a special moment and wanted to savour it fully. You aimed to appreciate life and see things in perspective.

    There are different versions regarding the origin of the phrase.

    One refers to an Eastern Monarch who asked sages to produce a phrase that would help him to rise above temporary events. Another refers to the phrase being associated with King Solomon.

    You can discover more about the views on its origin via the following link.

    http://www.icelia.com/billybud/BillsPlace/BillsPlaceDailyARC0032.html

    Different people use different versions of the phrase. Some say, for example: “This too will pass.” Others have their own ways of focusing on what is important in life when experiencing difficult times.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation in the past when you followed your version of the philosophy: “This too shall pass.” This could have been a personal or professional situation. 

    Describe the specific things you did to follow this philosophy in the situation. 

    Describe the specific things that happened as a result of following this philosophy.

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    Different people have different ways of applying this philosophy.

    Looking at my own life, for example, I have been fortunate and have had few difficulties. There have been two occasions, however, when I drew comfort from this approach.

    The first occasion was when working in a factory for six years. The daily work was boring and something at which I was poor, but my time was spent focusing on how to move on.

    Looking ahead, I kept exploring how to find work that helped people. I knew that one day this would be possible, so it made the time in the factory more tolerable.

    The second occasion was when experiencing excruciating pain for several hours whilst standing in Accident & Emergency. My catheter had been removed too early after having an operation for prostate cancer.

    Unfortunately this led to urinary retention and increasing pressure on the bladder. Eventually the queue subsided and was followed by joy and relief when another catheter was inserted.

    I learned a lot during the painful hours. Standing in the hospital, I distracted myself by saying: “This too will pass.”

    Being an educator, I also kept asking: “How can I use this experience? What are the lessons that can be learned? How can I pass on this knowledge to other people?”

    As mentioned earlier, different people have different approaches to applying the philosophy.

    Some people focus on the spiritual aspects of life. Building on their own beliefs, they see what is happening within the greater order of things.

    Some people focus on having a sense of gratitude. They draw strength from giving thanks, recalling magical memories and looking ahead to what they can do in the future.

    Some people focus on having a specific attitude towards what is happening. Here is one such approach.

    The positive approach to:
    “This too will pass.”

    The ancient phrase reminds us there are many life forces that live far longer than us. Bearing this in mind, some people aim to maintain perspective by putting themselves into positive circles. They sometimes focus on the following themes.

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    Positive Purpose 

    They ask: “What is my purpose on the planet? What do I want to give to people? How can I keep encouraging people in my life and work?”

    Positive Things

    They ask: “What are the things I am grateful for in my life? What are the things that give me positive energy? How can I do more of these things in the future?”

    Positive Results

    They ask: “What will be the results of encouraging people and doing the things that give me positive energy? How can I keep learning and developing? How can I use my strengths to help both present and future generations?” 

    You will have your own version of saying: “This too shall pass.” Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to follow your philosophy to deal with a specific experience? How can you apply this approach in your own way?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to follow your version of the philosophy: “This too shall pass.” This could be a personal or professional situation. 

    Describe the specific things you can do to follow this philosophy in the situation. 

    Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of following this philosophy.

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