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Friday, September 24, 2010

"Questions & Possibilities"

What's Great About This?
Recently, I was talking with a pastor who is serving a church that has tremendous debt (to no fault of his own - it was there when he arrived). Every once in awhile the burden of the congregation’s enormous mortgage would rears its ugly head and trigger an overwhelming sense of anxiety and helplessness.

The other day he called and I could hear the emptiness in his voice. Normally, this pastor is an upbeat, optimistic “let’s get it done” leader of vision. On the day of this phone call, his voiced was without hope, filled with burden and stress. During times like these I ask questions like, “do you want empathy, distraction or empowerment?” He said something akin to “whatever” so I decided to go for empowerment.

The questions we ask ourselves leads to an emotional response of possibility or disaster. There had been a significant change in his congregation’s cash flow. The more he asked the “what if” questions connected to the large monthly mortgage payment, the more he started to connect the dots in a fashion that amplified disaster. Our conversations went back in forth, until I was beginning to think that distraction would have been a better plan (“how about the Patriots?”).

What created the empowerment moment was reframing questions from threats to possibilities. My three favorite empowerment questions that are…

1. What is great about this?
2. How can we use this?
3. What is the next step?

(Timing is everything. Ask question number one at the wrong time and someone may throw more than just words at you.)

Notice how these questions frame possibility and point you in the direction of empowerment. When our economy first tanked, I started asking questions about how could this happen? Reading the experts opinions only made me more anxious. Remembering the old stress adage that “the brain wires in the way it fires,” I identified my anxiety as THE problem and begin to create a shift by asking different questions.  Anxiety is contagious and spreads like wildfire.

Here are three steps that can help to make the shift from disaster to possibility.

1. Define and Chunk the problem. This means identifying the problem in a manageable and solvable size. What is the problem I am having right now? How is this problem sticking to me personally? They weren’t going to get rid of the large mortgage overnight, but they could solve the cash flow crisis.

2. Brainstorm possible solutions to newly “chunked problem definition” and think wildly outside the box!

3. Pick a path and follow it to a conclusion with necessary adjustments along the way.

Often the help of a friend, mentor or therapist is needed to deal with internal fears, objections and resistance to redefining the problem or following a path of possibility. Sometimes the just feeling understood frees us up to to consider possibilities and solutions.  Often I find mental rebooting methods like tapping (EFT) or brainwave music very effective in shifting from ruminations to brainstorming.

The pastor and church debt?

At the next leadership meeting folk began to moan and groan about the finances and debt. When the pastor shifted the group to empowerment questions, they begin brainstorm and think wildly outside the box. The result was an upbeat meeting that led to exploring some exciting new ministry opportunities that would not have been dreamed of without asking the question "What is great about this?."

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