Where did you last have them?

That question – in response to ‘I’ve lost my keys/cards/marbles’ etc – has got to be one of the most frustrating questions in the world. I’m pretty sure that at some point most of us have replied ‘well, if I knew that, they wouldn’t be lost, would they?’ with a roll of the eyes.

What’s even more frustrating is that it works. As I stood in the supermarket unable to pay for my shopping, I mentally retraced my steps to the last time I’d used my card. A phone call later, it was confirmed that the shop I’d used it in the previous day had it locked away in their safe after I’d left it on the counter.

There’s another question rather like that which we use in coaching. It’s counter-intuitive and superficially maddening (and, yes, I do speak from personal experience here) but it’s surprisingly effective: If you knew the answer, what would it be?

You were hoping for something more profound, weren’t you? The success of this question is its belief that you already have some idea, however tiny, of what the answer is. Whatever you prefer to call it, your intuition/inner voice/guts/moral compass/instinct is telling you something that for some reason you’re not ready to acknowledge.

Sam felt stuck. He had a good job with his current employer but felt that he was unlikely to progress much further there. He and his wife had two young children in school and they lived near to his parents. Sam had been offered a well-paid job in a different part of the country in an organization which he felt would give him the opportunity to develop his career. As we talked, he worked through the advantages and disadvantages of each option. His current job was interesting, he worked with a great team, his family were happy in their home and it was great to have his parents close by. Sam was anxious about making the wrong choice and the impact it might have on him, his family and his career. He’d talked it over at length with his wife and his parents but still felt caught up in indecision. The new company was keen to have his decision.

‘I just don’t have an answer’, he sighed.

In Sam’s case, anxiety had sent him into a tailspin of second-guessing. I was fairly certain that he had at least a glimmer of an answer somewhere within him so I decided to go for it: ‘If you knew the answer, what would it be, Sam?’

He laughed at me, took a deep breath and said ‘I’d take the job. It’s a great opportunity. My wife agrees, the children are young enough for it not to be a problem for their education and my parents have said they’d love to come to visit. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll come back.’

That was about eight months ago now: last time I heard from him, Sam was enjoying his role and the family were settled in their new home.

Is there a question you need an answer to? Are you prepared to let your instinct surface?

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: If you knew the answer, what would it be?

What do you think?

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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