How to engage and work with any problem or challenge to unlock its potential
"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change" ~ Max Planck
This has long been one of my favourite quotes. It represents a fundamental belief of mine, which governs the way I live and work. Namely, it is not the situation - the thing that is in front of you - that determines your experience, it is the meaning you attach to it. The way you perceive things, or 'see' things, and the thoughts you have about any given situation or challenge, will shape how you feel about it, how you deal with it and what you learn from it, or not. They will shape your reality of the situation.
In leadership coaching and my own life, I work with the simple yet powerful 'Four Levels of Engagement' or 'DiSCO' framework developed by Alan Seale, Writer, Speaker and Founder & Director of The Center of Transformational Presence.
This framework enables me and those I work with to shift from getting stuck in problems, which is frustrating and energy draining, to identifying potential, new possibilities and the learning in whatever's going on. You can apply it in any situation or challenge.
DiSCO - The four levels of engagement are:
- D - Drama
- S - Situation
- C - Choice
- O - Opportunity
Who's to blame?
DRAMA: Engaging with a challenge at this level, we ask ourselves "Who's fault is this?" and "Who can I blame?". We look for the responsibility outside of ourselves and ask how on earth this could have happened to us?! There is often a high level of emotion here. Frustration, anger, disbelief, indignation. To me, this level often feels like the place of the victim. And at the same time very judgemental. The media thrives on drama. As do gossips! It can feel deceptively 'high energy' here. However, it is a false and superficial energy. If you stay stuck in the drama of a situation, it will eventually deplete you of your energy and leave you drained and dispirited. There is nothing wrong with blowing off a dose of healthy steam when the s#*t hits the fan, however getting stuck here is not effective.
Let's fix it, quick!
SITUATION: Dropping down to this level, we focus on the facts of the situation and on solving the problem as quickly as possible, so that we can all return to normal - to the way things were. And preferably so that no one notices that we had a problem in the first place! This is the level of sticking band aids on the issue. A quick fix. But is it sustainable? And what have we truly learnt from our challenge? In my experience, challenges are often approached from this level of awareness. There is nothing wrong with that. If a machine is broken, it needs fixing and quickly. But, with more complex issues, if we purely approach them from this factual, situational place, we risk missing the chance to identify the real new opportunity - the potential - that is waiting to emerge.
What is this asking of me?
CHOICE: Once we drop down to this third level of engagement, we start to create the conditions for a fundamental shift to happen. Here we ask ourselves "Which role have I played in creating this situation?" And "Which role do I want to embrace going forward?". "Who is this situation asking me to be?". Notice; to BE, not do DO... We are not used to asking ourselves this question. It challenges us to examine which quality or state of being we are being asked to adopt by the situation, in order to move forward and create something new out of the challenge. What kind of presence is required? For example, am I called to be a visionary? A rebel? A true listener? Or maybe a risk taker? Once we have consciously chosen who we need to BE within the situation, our decisions and actions will flow naturally from that.
"A problem is not something to be solved, it is a message to be listened to" ~ Alan Seale
What really wants to shift?
OPPORTUNITY: The fourth level of engagement gets us looking at the challenge and - perhaps more importantly - listening to the challenge from the perspective of "What is really trying to happen here?" Or "What is wanting to shift?" It encourages an awareness that if something is not working, it is trying to show us that something new and better wants to emerge. What is it trying to tell us? It invites us to tap into our intuition, to pause and sense into the situation, and to partner this deeper level of knowing with our intellect. Rather than just trying to 'figure things out' and solve things from a purely rational place.
Generally, the bigger the drama the greater the opportunity. S#*t often happens for a reason. So, which message is trying to get your attention? Sometimes when we are in the middle of a crisis it's almost impossible for us to step back and identify the real potential that is wanting to unfold. It is only a while later that we realise that our biggest challenges in life and work were often also our greatest gifts. Approaching our challenge consciously from the level of Opportunity helps us to identify the invitations and potential within whatever is going on, even when we are in the middle of it.
Once we have identified what wants to shift going forward, we can then go back to the level of Choice and ask ourselves "Given this opportunity, who is this now asking me to be?" And then "What is it calling me to do?" Or "What is my next step?". Moving between the levels of Choice and Opportunity in any situation allows us to work with the new and better that wants to emerge from that which is no longer working.
There is nothing absolutely right or wrong with any of these four levels. The trick is to be honest about whether engaging at a certain level is serving a purpose. And to not get 'stuck' in just the first two levels of Drama and Situation. These are superficial levels. Be aware of where you are and where the people around you are. And be sure to also engage with challenges from the levels of Choice and Opportunity. Only then will you have the capacity to identify and facilitate the creation of the new and better that is wanting to emerge.
Interested to know more about practically applying this or any other 'Transformational Presence' framework in your personal leadership, and/ or with your team or organisation? Contact me.