Shifting Perspectives

Today’s blog post explains one of my favorite exercises dating back to my earliest days as a leader and mentor. I now know this exercise foreshadowed more profound techniques I would learn on my journey as an ontological coach.

Ontology is the study of being. Ontological coaching examines our Way of Being – how we view the world. Through ontological coaching, we look to generate ontological shifts in our Way of Being that change how we view the world and open new possibilities for action. This exercise is one way to help you shift your Way of Being.

Shifting Your Perspective

When I started using this exercise, I had a circular table in my office with four chairs. I noticed that each person had a favorite chair for our 1:1 meetings. They always sat in the same chair, and I had a favorite chair for that particular 1:1. So for any given 1:1, we had a consistent view of each other and the room surrounding us.

When someone was working through a thorny problem, I’d first encourage them to describe every idea they had about the situation. What have they already tried? What results did that achieve? What else do they think they could try? We would spend a few minutes brainstorming. When they were out of ideas, I gave them a post-it note, asked them to write their name on the note, and put it on the table in front of them. This seat was their chair and their perspective.

Next, I would ask them to move to the chair on their right and select a new perspective. Possibly the view of their boss. Or the perspective of our CEO. A wizened sage, a young child, a mad scientist. Whatever perspective they chose. I had them write that perspective on another post-it note, put it on the table in front of them, and resume their brainstorming from that new perspective.

Physically moving to a new chair gave the coachee a different physical experience that helped them shift into that new perspective. Try it. If you always sit in the same chair at dinner, have everyone shift one chair to the right for your next meal. I think you’ll be surprised at how different it looks and feels.

We continued this process in all four chairs around the table. Without fail, the coachee has identified new perspectives and a host of new ideas they haven’t tried before.

Possible Perspectives

Half of the fun in this exercise is selecting the perspective you want to adopt. Here are some of my favorites, drawing from archetypes and connecting to some of my favorite fictional universes:

  • The wise sage (Yoda, Gandalf, Dumbledore, The Ancient One from Dr. Strange)
  • A king or queen (Aragorn, Black Panther, King Arthur)
  • A warrior (Thor, Captain America, anyone from the Vikings TV series)
  • A magician (Loki, Dr. Strange, Harry Potter, Merlin)
  • A young child 

Consider adopting the perspective of people in your life close to the problem:

  • Your boss
  • Your CEO
  • A peer
  • A direct report
  • Your partner
  • Your son or daughter
  • Someone you admire

Another lens is the Six Thinking Hats. Don different thinking hats to view the problem differently:

  • White – Analytical; just the facts
  • Yellow – Optimism
  • Black – Risks
  • Red – Feelings and intuition
  • Green – Creativity
  • Blue – The facilitator

Taking It Further

Moving to different seats around a table is a simple application. You could take it further by moving to other rooms in the building. One perspective might tie to taking a walk. Another might connect to sitting under your favorite tree.

As you experiment, note which perspectives open the most possibilities for you. Consider permanently assigning a space to that perspective, so it’s easier for you to get into that perspective when you need it.

As I said, this is just the tip of the iceberg with ontological coaching. In future blog posts, I’ll share some techniques to help you take this further to embody a new perspective fully and shift your Way of Being.

Schedule time with Josh.

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