Need a new perspective on an issue? Try a new frame

Imagine you have a wonderful photo that you’d like to display. You take it to a picture framer to have it professionally mounted and she asks you what kind of frame you’d like.

I usually go for a plain black frame,’ you say, ‘but what would you suggest?

The framer grabs a load of different frames and mounts and you spend some time combining them: an ornate frame with no mount; a stark black frame with a deep white mount; an acrylic frame with no edges. As you do so, you see that different combinations show off different aspects of the photo: some pick up the key colour in the picture, others give a sense of depth to the picture and help it really stand out.

Different frames give different effects.

So it is in everyday life too. We all have frames of reference: a set of criteria or assumptions which we use to filter what we observe in order to evaluate them. Frames of reference might be based on background, values, experiences, personality or preferences.

In short, a frame of reference is the story we tell ourselves. Sometimes those stories are incorrect; sometimes they’re unhelpful. You see a colleague in a suit when he normally dresses really casually. ‘Must be going for an interview,’ you think. Maybe. Perhaps he’s going to see his bank manager at lunchtime. Maybe he’s come from a funeral.

When we come up against an issue, it can be helpful to re-frame it and examine whether there’s another way of looking at the situation.

How do you reframe a situation?

It’s a technique I use with my coaching clients and here are just some of the questions we work through:

  • What’s another way to view this that’s just as likely to be true but more beneficial?
  • What assumptions am I making about the people involved?
  • What boundaries have I imposed on myself?
  • What if I look at this problem from the other person’s perspective? What do I see?
  • What’s the worst possible solution to this issue?
  • What’s the impact if we don’t solve this? Is it worth our time and effort?
  • What are we actually trying to achieve? (sometimes the immediate issue is masking the real problem: ‘I need to find a bigger bucket for the hallway’ vs ‘there’s a hole in the roof’)

When we reframe an issue, we see it in a different light. We create new options, solve conflicts and negotiate mutually beneficial solutions.

great thought begins by seeing something differently with a shift of the mind's eye

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: could re-framing help you find a new perspective on an issue? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your career,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Four questions to solve a problem

Whether you’re a manager, a parent, a spouse, a friend or a colleague, at some point someone has come up to you and asked you to help them sort out a problem.

Imagine a colleague says to you ‘I really need your help – since I’ve been promoted, I’ve struggled to show that I’m the manager now rather than just one of the team. I don’t know how to do it without looking really arrogant. Any ideas?

Let’s work through that example with the four questions:

1   How will you know you’ve succeeded?

This helps us to focus on the solution rather than the challenge. If this is a big issue that’s likely to take some time, it could make sense to break it down into smaller steps to success.

In our example, your colleague says ‘The team will look to me for leadership. We will have a good working relationship where we enjoy working together but my responsibility for them and authority is accepted. Throughout the business, I’ll be seen as heading up an effective and cohesive team.’

Once the other party has detailed what success will look like, summarise it back to them to check that you’ve understood correctly and any necessary tweaks can be made.

2   What are the obstacles?

When we’re facing a challenge, the stuff that’s getting in the way looms large! Listing them can help to clear the mental clutter that’s preventing progress.

Currently, I think I get in my own way a lot. Having been one of the team, I don’t want to be seen as pulling rank so sometimes I’m too soft on performance issues and that’s a vicious circle. I’m not good at giving feedback – whether that’s negative or positive.

One of the team is a really good friend and he went for the job too. I know he’s feeling pretty sore that he didn’t get it and so I’m particularly conscious of not wanting to be all ‘I’m the manager’ in front of him.’

3   What will help you make progress?

It’s time to look for support that already exists: whether that’s in the form of a person or an organisation. Here, your job is not to make those suggestions but to facilitate thinking. ‘What else?’ is a handy question here.

Here are some possible answers from our fictional colleague:

  • Look for books/podcasts for first time managers
  • Talk to colleague who didn’t get the job
  • Feedback training
  • See if there’s any option for some peer-to-peer mentoring within the company
  • Assertiveness training

4   Which actions will make the biggest difference in your situation?

Take another look at the answers to questions 2 and 3. As you review them, ask your colleague to evaluate which will have the greatest impact.

Then get specific with an action plan: what will they do by when? If you’d like to continue to help, why not agree to meet again to review progress so far?

Firstly, I think I need to sit down and have an open discussion with my friend who didn’t get the job. We’ve been skirting around the issue and it’s uncomfortable. I know that if he’s seen to accept me as manager, the rest of the team will respect that. I’d like to see how I can help him make progress so that if another management position comes up, he’ll be ready for that. I’m going to put a meeting with him in the diary for the beginning of next week.

I need to find some resources on how to give effective feedback: that will help me address the performance issues. I’ll talk to our training manager to see if he can recommend something. I’m going to pop down to HR on my way back to my desk after this.’

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Of course, there’s no reason that you can’t apply these four questions to your own challenges.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: can you use these four questions to help others solve their problems?



Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Would you like to be happier?

Happiness is a subject which often comes up in coaching sessions: a client’s happiness within their job, their happiness with their job, their happiness at home, their happiness with the direction in which their life is heading. Therefore, it’s not surprising that I spend a lot of time researching happiness and wellbeing.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project she writes this:

According to current research, in the determination of a person’s level of happiness, genetics accounts for about 50 percent; life circumstances, such as age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, income account for about 10 to 20 percent; and the remainder is a product of how a person thinks and acts.’

That suggests to me that at least 30 per cent of the determination of my level of happiness is down to me – that’s enough for me to consider it worthwhile taking steps to address my happiness. But can you do this in a scientific way? Isn’t happiness too abstract for that?

In The Little Book of Lykke (the Danish word for ‘happiness’), Meik Wiking writes:

There are a lot of things we cannot control for, and there are a lot of pitfalls in the science of happiness. But the best way to makes sure that we do not gain knowledge in this field is to lean back and say that it can’t be done. I am yet to hear a convincing argument why happiness should be the one thing in the world we cannot study in a scientific manner.’

With that in mind, I enrolled on Yale University’s ‘The Science of Wellbeing’ on Coursera. Described as Yale’s most popular course in history, it’s a six week course consisting of videos, reading and some ‘rewirements’ – practical exercises which it’s claimed with help ‘rewire’ the brain. I’ve just completed week 1 so I’ll have to let you know how the rewiring goes!

Maybe you’d like to see if you can increase your levels of happiness but you’re not into the idea of signing up for a course. In that case, here’s an interesting TEDtalk for you by Dan Gilbert, the author of ‘Stumbling on happiness’:

(If you can’t see the video, here’s the link: The surprising science of happiness)

It’s worth noting that Dan makes three errors in this talk – corrections are shown below the video on TED’s site: a corrected transcript is also displayed. 

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you agree that we can increase our levels of happiness by taking action? If so, what action will you take?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?


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When ‘fight or flight’ isn’t right – how to be objective in a stressful situation

Picture the scene – you’ve had a busy morning at a client site, you’re just crammed yourself onto a delayed train to get to your next meeting, there are no seats so you’re clinging onto an overhead rail for dear life and your phone flashes up an email from your boss. You just see the heading: ‘Urgent – stats needed’. You open the email – it’s just a single line: ‘Need all the latest stats on Acme Corporation account asap’.

In the midst of all this chaos and busyness, how do you react?

From conversations with my coaching clients and friends, I’d say a pretty common reaction is increased heart rate, maybe feeling a bit sick, perhaps even anger. Thoughts like ‘oh no, what’s happened now?’, ‘what have I missed?’, ‘doesn’t she realise what else I’ve got on my plate today?’ might be rushing through your head. In some cases, your mind even creates a film strip starring you in all the possible negative scenarios that could arise from your boss’s request: a stressed out and sweating you explaining to the client why sales are down this quarter, a doleful you carrying the contents of your desk out of the building in a cardboard box, a miserable you eating cold baked beans from the tin as you search online for a new job.

The bit of your brain that’s causing that reaction is your amygdala – it’s the part of the brain that provides the ‘fight or flight response’. Whilst there are situations in which that response is essential, that’s not the case for most of our everyday lives, thank goodness. When our emotions take over, it’s known as an ‘amygdala hijack’. The bit of the brain we want to use to deal with these situation is the pre-frontal cortex: it’s the ‘thinking’ area of the brain where we can be more rational in our responses.

How do we move our thinking from the amygdala to the pre-frontal cortex?

Name your emotion
Is it anger? Is it fear? As you name it, you are activating your pre-frontal cortex and taking a step back from the immediate emotional response, thus lessening its impact.

What’s provoked that emotion?
In this example, getting an urgent email from your boss in the middle of an already stressful day.

It’s a very short email which doesn’t explain why or in what format the information is needed or what’s meant by ‘asap’.

As you work through this, you are becoming more objective about the situation and your rational pre-frontal cortex is taking over from your ‘survival instinct’ amygdala.

emotional intelligence resilience emotions body scan fight or flight amygdala

In sessions with clients where they have brought up instances of an amygdala hijack response to a situation, we often work through the emotional body scan exercise. Then I have gone one step further with objectivity by asking them to imagine themselves in the third person –

So, Paul, you see Paul on the train, getting that email and you see the colour drain from his face as he reads it. What would you suggest he does next?

When we see a situation from a third person perspective, it’s easier to craft an objective response –

I’d advise him that there’s nothing he can do whilst he’s standing up on a busy and noisy train. He can use the time on the train to calm his mind rather than letting himself get all worked up imagining stressful scenarios. I would suggest that as he gets off the train, he finds somewhere quiet to stop for five minutes to call his boss and ask for more details – what exactly does she need, by when, in what format – and to make suggestions about who else can help if it’s physically impossible for Paul to get that information to her whilst he’s out of the office.

As Daniel Goleman says, the ability to pause and to not act on that first impulse has become a crucial emotional skill in modern lives. The third person perspective can help you to become more objective in a stressful situation.

Today’s pebble for your contemplation: can you use a third person perspective to tame your amygdala hijacks and respond to a situation more objectively?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Improving your second score – how to receive negative feedback well

My last post provided a simple framework to ensure we offer constructive feedback. Understandably, some readers then got in touch to ask about receiving feedback.

When we receive positive feedback, we sometimes feel embarrassed and try to explain it away. You know the thing – a colleague congratulates you on your presentation to the company meeting and you say ‘oh, the other speakers were much better, I was so nervous and I think I rambled on a bit’ or a dinner guest remarks how delicious your chocolate roulade is and you instantly say ‘it’s such a simple recipe, embarrassingly easy.’ Maybe we could just try smiling and saying ‘thank you’ then move on to another topic of conversation.

So that’s the upside of receiving feedback. What about those times when we receive some constructive negative feedback?

The phrase ‘second score’ refers to that occasion. Your ‘first score’ is the evaluation of a piece of work or your performance in general: sometimes that will be a literal score, perhaps in a performance review, other times it will be a comment along the lines of ‘that wasn’t up to your usual standard’. We can’t go back in time and alter our first score but we can choose our response to it – that response is our ‘second score’.

We can feel quite uncomfortable, embarrassed, emotional, even angry when we receive some negative feedback. Hopefully the person giving you the feedback is giving you the evidence, explaining the impact and then working with you to design and agree the changes you’re going to make. However skilled the person giving feedback, we can still struggle to receive it.

A structure to help you handle feedback better and improve your second score

Another mnemonic for you: PAC. I’m basing the following example on the same situation I used on the last post so if you haven’t already, hop on over to Want to improve performance? Effective feedback is key to familiarise yourself with Paul and his late report.

P is for pause

Firstly, simply pause. Rather than rushing in to justify or defend yourself, take a breath, take a sip of water, compose yourself and when you are ready, move on to step two.

Depending on the nature of the feedback, you may need to suggest meeting again at another time in order for you to have had sufficient opportunity to compose yourself and be ready to discuss the situation further.

A is for ask

Now’s the time to ask for clarification and pin down the specifics – ‘If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that my lateness delivering the Friday report is causing you problems collating the report for the Board, is that right? Is there anything I need to change regarding the actual content of the report or the way in which I present it?’ and you can go on to check that there’s nothing you’ve missed.

C is for confirm

Having asked questions and clarified what needs to change, you can confirm the action you will take.

So the report itself is fine. What I plan to do is to block out 8.30am to 9am on a Thursday in my diary each in order to write the report and 8.45am to 9am on a Friday morning to check it over, add any last minute details and have it in your inbox by 9am each Friday. That way it will be with you in plenty of time so you can add it to the final report and submit that by the deadline – would that work for you?

framework for receiving feedback pause ask confirm clarity coaching

I think you will agree that this is an incredibly simple structure: that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to accomplish! It takes practice. My experience of using this technique both personally and sharing it with my coaching clients is that it can be invaluable in taking the emotional sting out of feedback, helping to concentrate on the facts rather than assumptions, and allowing us to achieve a better ‘second score’.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: can you remember a time when you received difficult feedback and feel that you could have handled it better? Will you use PAC to help you respond better in future?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Want to improve performance? Effective feedback is key

My weekly newsletter invites readers to send me suggestions for blog posts and recently I had several messages about how to give and receive feedback effectively. Feedback is part of our everyday lives – we check reviews before we eat out or go on holiday – and our working lives, whether we’re an employee of a large organisation or a solo entrepreneur.

As a post on Harvard Business Review recently said, good feedback is based on facts, not your opinion. What are some key components of effective feedback? It’s a topic that my coaching clients and I have discussed often and here are some elements we identified.

Feedback should be:


This isn’t about venting your frustrations, it’s about helping the recipient to improve.

A part of everyday life

Ed Batista counsels us to make feedback normal rather than part of a performance review. This allows us to give feedback in a timely fashion: why wait until an annual review to bring up something that happened eight months ago when you could nip it in the bud now? It also means that we reduce the anxiety people may feel about receiving feedback by not turning the conversation into a big deal.

Refers to actions and behaviour, not character

Compare the sentence ‘you’re a terrible listener’ to ‘when you spend our conversations checking your phone, it feels to me like you’re not listening’. The second demonstrates that you’ve noticed a particular behaviour and are giving feedback on the impression that creates.


In a similar vein, ‘you’re so quiet all the time’ could be discounted by the recipient as being rather vague and therefore not helpful. ‘You were very quiet in last Tuesday’s meeting’ reminds them of a specific event to which they can respond.

Not jumping to conclusions

We can sometimes add our own interpretations to an event. To take my previous example, you might say something like –  ‘you were very quiet in last Tuesday’s meeting: was that because you felt the whole thing was a waste of time?’.

You may have hit the nail on the head: you may have completely missed the point. Try a more open approach – ‘you were very quiet in last Tuesday’s meeting: could you tell me a bit more about that’.

Need a framework for effective feedback?

Based on these elements, I’ve devised a simple mnemonic to help you stay on track when you give feedback: EIC.

E is for evidence

Get specific about the person’s behaviour or actions, not about their personality – ‘Paul, over the last four weeks, you’ve missed the noon on Friday deadline for sending me your team report.

I is for impact 

Describe in non-emotional and specific terms the impact of the behaviour or actions on you, others or a situation –

That’s led to me being unable to include specific details of your team’s activity in my 4pm Friday report to the Board. Your team is missing out on an opportunity for their contribution to be noticed.’

C is for change

Encourage the other person to generate ideas for how to change, supporting and guiding as appropriate. We are more likely to take ownership of solutions we generate ourselves. Agree a timescale to review the changes.

What would enable you to get it to me on time?’ Paul comes up with some ideas, settles on one in particular, and you agree that he will trial that for the next month and then you will both review how it’s going.

Of course, if you are giving positive feedback, there is no need for change but rather than just saying ‘good job’, it’s far more useful and rewarding to give evidence and explain the impact –

Paul, since we talked about the need for you to be punctual delivering your Friday report, you’ve sent it in before noon every week. That’s meant that I’ve been able to include your team’s work in my report finished and get it out to the Board in time for the 4pm deadline. They’re really pleased with your team’s contribution. Thanks for helping me keep them informed.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: can you use EIC to help you provide effective feedback? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Is it possible to be scared of success?

Imagine this conversation –

‘What are you thinking about? You look worried.’

‘I have nothing to wear.’

‘I’m pretty sure that’s not true – can you be more specific?’

‘For the Oscars. I have nothing to wear to the Oscars.’

‘What? You’re going to the Oscars? How did this happen? What are you talking about?’

‘When I collect my award.’

‘Sorry, you’ve lost me – you’re going to the Oscars to collect your award?! What for?’

‘Best screenplay.’

‘Wait … what?’

‘You heard me. Best screenplay.’

‘Honestly, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve won the Oscar for best screenplay – what screenplay?’

‘Oh, I haven’t written it yet. But when I do, it’ll win. But I won’t be able to go and collect the award – I’ve got nothing to wear. No point writing the screenplay then.’

I’m unlikely to ever have that conversation with a coaching client. However, I have had a ‘dialled down’ version of that conversation with several clients. They have a big goal. We work together to create an action plan to achieve that goal.

And then sometimes things get complicated. Their minds take them straight to the end of the process at the point at which they have achieved their goals and it all becomes somehow overwhelming.

Sometimes it can seem so overwhelming that they back right away from the goal and the action plan. They quit before they even start – you could call it ‘pre-quitting’.

Why would anyone do that? In my experience, it seems to be based on a fear of success. Does anyone really fear success?

unsplash-logoSandro Schuh

Indicators of fear of success include:

  • Talking about your projects but not actually knuckling down and doing the work;
  • Taking on too much so that your focus is divided;
  • The same goals appearing on your annual goals list year after year;
  • Making great progress on your action plan but then dipping out at a key moment and missing an opportunity;
  • Feeling guilty about successes and worrying that sharing your achievements will embarrass others who aren’t doing so well or make you look conceited;
  • Not wanting to put yourself ‘out there’ in case you actually get noticed and that brings a higher level of scrutiny to your work.

What can we do if fear of success is present?

When I noticed indicators of fear of success in my clients, I ask them to tell me more about what’s behind those feelings. As we talk, it becomes apparent whether there is indeed that fear and on what it is founded. Sometimes we go on to talk about imposter syndrome, fear of failure or perhaps fear of change. Having brought these concerns into the open, we can examine them and adjust plans accordingly.

One of the strengths of the coaching relationship is this accountability to each other to explore, examine and evaluate feelings and assumptions in order to continue to make progress. My clients give me permission to draw attention to instances where I see imposter syndrome or perfectionism creeping in to hamper their work. Together, we ensure that they make the presentation, prepare for the interview, stick with the programme, maybe even write the screenplay!

Today’s pebble for you to consider: do you recognise the fear of success in your work or life?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to tackle a fear of success in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?


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