Introducing Different Angles

Welcome to Different Angles, the e-newsletter of New Perspectives Coaching, Training and Facilitation.  This is the first edition of this newsletter, which will come out every 2-3 months.  Each issue will feature an article on an organizational development challenge and a tool for addressing it.  It will also include information on training opportunities and other support offered by New Perspectives.

Here is this issue’s article.  Enjoy!

Transforming “Why” to “What”

Often, when we are feeling stuck and frustrated, we ask ourselves or our colleagues “why” questions: Why is it so hard? Why am I uncomfortable? Why can’t we seem to….? Why is there so much resistance to…? Why don’t I want to…? Why isn’t anybody…?

But much of the time, the why questions don’t seem to get us anywhere.  We find ourselves still bogged down, still feeling stuck in the problems without much clarity about how to solve them.

There is a good reason for that.  “Why” questions tend to move us into resistance, rather than out of it — they ask us to explain or justify our feelings or actions, rather than inviting us to look for creative solutions.

It is far more effective to ask “What” questions if you want to move forward.

  • “Why is it so hard?” becomes “What about it is hard?”
  • “Why am I/are we uncomfortable?” becomes “What is it about this that makes me/us uncomfortable?”
  • “Why can’t we seem to?” becomes “What is in the way of our…?”
  • “Why is there so much resistance to…?” becomes “What is it that we are resisting?”
  • “Why don’t we/I want to…?” becomes “What is it that we/I don’t want?”

“What” questions are much easier to answer.   They tend to move us out of judgment and into curiosity, and to provide more concrete information for us to work with as we look for creative solutions.

Once you have done the most direct translation, look for more “what” questions that will illuminate the challenge you are facing.  For example, if the first answer feels self-evident, or like a dead end (i.e. you answer “what is hard about this?” with “it’s scary”) ask a “what” question about that answer (“what is scary about it?”) and see where that leads you.

Powerful Questions

Here are a few powerful “what” questions to try out when you feel stuck:

  • What do I/we want?
  • What am I/are we resisting?
  • What do I/we want to say yes to?
  • What do I/we want to say no to?
  • What am I/are we compromising?
  • What would make it easy?
  • What am I/are we tolerating?
  • What does my body know?
  • What do I/we want to let go of?
  • What would make it fun?

Stay curious.  See where these questions lead you.

What Else?

One of the most powerful questions we can ask is “what else?”  When we invite our minds to give us information by asking a “what” question, our minds will generally start by offering us the answers they know best.  These are sometimes just what we need, but they can also be quite limited.  Try asking “what else?” and continuing to ask it until you completely run out of possible responses — let yourself be wildly impractical at this stage; this is where the creativity comes from.  Later you can go back and decide what you want to act on.

Try this out in a meeting.  I suspect you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get to the heart of what needs action.

Join the conversation…

I’d love to hear about what comes up for you in response to this article — experiences, questions, observations, etc.  Please click on the word “comments” at the bottom of the page to join the conversation.

Want More?

This tool comes from my “Tools for Getting Unstuck” workshop. For information on that and other workshops and training modules, or on facilitation and coaching services, contact me.

Special Training Offer:  Tools for Getting Unstuck

I’ve developed a one-hour version of my popular Tools for Getting Unstuck workshop. It is inspiring and interactive, and participants leave with simple, powerful tools they can put to use at both the organizational and individual level. I have seen a lot of great results using these tools and I’d love to introduce them to you so, between now and June 15th, I’m offering the one hour version to anyone who mentions this announcement for $125. (Outside the Portland Metro region I add travel expenses.)  You can lock in the price by getting the training scheduled by June 15th — it can happen anytime in 2011.

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Upcoming Workshop: Creating Productive Groups through Effective Decision-Making

Does any of this sound familiar in your organization?

  • You try to make decisions inclusively but run into time pressures and complaints about too many meetings
  • People are unclear about decisions that have already been made
  • Employees say they lack needed information to do their jobs
  • Committees and work groups keep getting stuck

As nonprofits, our success depends on our ability to work together–including making sound decisions that lead to committed action. Despite our best efforts to engage and inform others, effective decision-making is often elusive: informality can result in chaos, while too much formality can lead to bottlenecks and stifle creativity.

My colleague, Paula Manley and I are presenting a one day, highly participatory workshop designed to give you powerful, easy-to-use tools to enhance decision-making, communication, and productivity in your team or organization. Together we will:

  • Explore common causes of communication and decision-making breakdowns
  • Identify a variety of decision-making approaches and roles–and when to use each
  • Learn tools to unearth conflicting assumptions that can undermine decisions and their implementation
  • Build skills for getting unstuck when your group is at an impasse
  • Set next steps for strengthening decision-making and communication within your team or organization

Who Should Attend

  • Executive Directors, Managers
  • Supervisors, Team Leaders
  • Board Leaders including Committee Chairs

When: June 2nd, 2011 from 8:30 a.m. through 4:00 p.m.

Location: Nonprofit Association of Oregon, East Bank Commerce Center, 4th floor, 1001 SE Water Ave., Suite 430, Portland OR.

Cost: $135 for NAO Members & Affiliates, $150 for others.

To Register: Go to NAO’s website.

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Looking for in-house training designed to meet the specific needs of your staff or board? I specialize in providing unorthodox, effective training that provides powerful new tools to address the goals and challenges you are actually facing.  You’ll find more about my approach to training on this website.  Please contact me to talk about your needs and what I can offer.

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Do you feel like you are pushing boulders uphill? Get a one hour New Perspectives Organizational Boulders Assessment

I am offering a free, one hour assessment to any organization that requests one in the next three months. In this assessment you will get:

  • New perspectives and insights into what’s causing many of the challenges to effective teamwork and leadership development in your organization (where you are pushing boulders uphill when you don’t have to be);
  • New tools you can use immediately to address some of the core causes of your organization’s internal challenges;
  • A renewed sense of what is possible, and renewed energy for making needed shifts happen; and
  • A list of next steps for making your organization’s internal work easier and more effective.

If you are interested in setting up a Boulders Assessment, please contact me.

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Questions? Comments?

I’d love to hear from you. You can join the public conversation about turning Why questions into What questions by clicking on the comments link below.  For other comments and questions, my email is, and the phone is 503-788-2333.

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Thanks for all the good work you are doing. I hope the tools I bring will support you in making that work easier and still more effective.





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