Developing Insights

May 2007

Recently, a client and I were discussing a business challenge he is wrestling with, and I offered a few observations about the issue and how he might approach it.  He thought for a minute, and after thanking me for helping him get to the core of the problem, asked me how I get my “insights” into such situations.  I think that whatever insights I might have can usually be traced back to being a curious and open observer.  In my dozen years of work as an executive coach, I have had the privilege and opportunity to get in-depth looks at many interesting and varied problems that crop up in the workplace.  My clients’ eyes are the ones through which I initially see the issues, but that is just the beginning. 

As the situation is explained to me, I try to keep an open mind as I’m listening.  This entails tamping down my own assumptions while simultaneously being alert to cues about what is really going on.  Those cues may be very subtle (a slight shift in voice tone, body language of folks in a meeting, how a memo is worded, etc.).  I hold those observations loosely, and with curiosity.  For example, instead of making assumptions about a vocal shift, I wonder what might be causing it.  I ask open-ended questions.  It is important to ponder the right question(s) when seeking insight into something.  So, I think a lot about what is the real question that needs to be addressed when confronting a problem. 

Another way I move toward insight is to come from a position of not knowing the answer.  When we hold on tightly to what we have already learned (whether it be a favorite approach to problem solving, certain assessments, or how a project should be run), we preclude a lot of new understanding from occurring.  I’m not afraid to admit to myself and others that I don’t know.  That declaration, plus genuine curiosity, opens up space for new thinking to begin.  So, I try to approach problems as a learner.  I let go of being right.

There are myriad other ingredients that go into the mix of nurturing insights.  For me, those include time to think, playfulness, creativity, listening skills, exposure to lots of different ideas, being open to intuition, and relaxation.  How do you nurture insights of your own?  If I can support you in this exploration, please let me know.

Sharon Keys Seal

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