The Science Behind Considering Options
In decision-making, many people get stuck talking about Reality, but the key element in problem-solving is using reality to generate solutions.
When it comes to generating and processing solutions, there are two distinct thought processes: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.
Anne Manning, an instructor at Harvard University explains:
“Divergent and convergent thinking is the most fundamental element of creative problem solving. [They] are different parts of the same process…Divergent thinking is, in essence, coming up with ideas…Convergent thinking is about taking ideas, thinking about them, reflecting on them, improving them and coming up with decisions.”
When following the GROW Model, the performer expands their thinking in the options phase, without being encumbered by the convergent thinking of the reality phase. At this stage, quantity is better than quality. Generate as many ideas as possible. We encourage workshop participants to generate at least 20 options to solve their problems. Often, their chosen Way Forward ends up being fairly late in their list of options.
Once all ideas have been expressed, the performer can begin to develop an action plan and process a way forward.
When thinking about options, strive to remain unfettered from reality. Consider questions like:
If anything were possible, what would I/you do?
If I/you were watching this conversation, what would I/you advise?
What would someone else need to see or hear to get their attention/buy-in?
When using the GROW Model in a coaching conversation, the coach should make sure the performer has exhausted all their ideas before adding their own. Many leaders tend to provide their own ideas too early in the problem-solving process. Hearing options from someone else can cause the mind to revert back to convergent thinking. It can also limit the effectiveness of the eventual solution. It may feel odd or silly, but continue asking “what else,” until the performer is out of ideas.
Research psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and consultant David Rock have performed neuroscientific research that demonstrates the measurable, physical effects of approaches like GROW Coaching.
They observe that brain scan activity shows dramatic differences in the way people think. Each person processes thoughts differently. Because of these differences, giving advice (telling another person what your brain would do) is “very inefficient at facilitating change.”
Unfortunately, this is the most common approach to helping people. Schwartz and Rock found that “for insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions.”