The Elegant Pocket Questions

When people ask me what my latest book The Elegant Pivot is all about, I almost always say “It’s a treatise on how to assume positive intent.” But there is something that matters even more. As I’ve been writing the companion workbook, more than ever, I recognize that The Elegant Pivot is all about keeping me curious, so that I can handle whatever comes my way. I said in the book that “assuming positive intent is the gateway to curiosity.”

Being curious keeps me learning. When you choose to assume positive intent, you put your mind into “creative problem solving” mode instead of being in whatever reactive mode the other person just triggered. One thing we know about our reactive mode: It’s always based on past strategies. It’s not based on what is happening NOW, in this moment. If you commit to assume positive intent, then you are less likely to:

  • Get defensive
  • Go on the counterattack
  • Act from fear
  • Shut down
  • Blabber and ramble
  • Capitulate

With your brain’s creative problem-solving mode, you can listen past the other person’s defensiveness, attacks, and fear and begin to hear what they are really saying. You are now able to enter into a dialogue of give and take where you can figure out together what is needed in the situation.

Assuming positive intent is a strategy designed to work around whatever automatic thinking triggered by someone’s behavior. When someone pushes our buttons, it’s tempting to blame the button pusher for the problem. I was the world champion blamer of the button pusher. One day someone looked at me and said “Maybe you should do something about your buttons.”

It’s easier said than done. Yes, we can work to get untriggered after one of our buttons has been pushed. The Elegant Pivot Workbook will have a lot of methods to make our buttons reversible or to make them less easy to get pushed.

However, in the moment and under pressure, I have found it’s really, really useful to have some pocket questions. That’s a planned response that I can pull off in the heat of the moment, even while I’m still triggered. It does two things. First, a pocket question buys me time to gather myself and perhaps come back to now. Second, it’s a question designed to move the conversation forward, rather than fall into a “I’m right, You’re Wrong” argument.

I’m going to include a variety of pocket questions for different situations in the workbook. Here are a few samples:

  1. To help you see someone else’s thinking process: “Could you tell me more about how you came to that conclusion?”
  2. To help you share your own thinking process: “Can I take you through my thinking?”
  3. When you disagree with someone else’s point of view: “What most influenced your thinking on arriving at that conclusion?”
  4. When someone says “That won’t work.”: “What will work?”
  5. When you feel like you are at an impasse: “What, if anything, would move you to think differently?”

These are just a few of the pocket questions that I regularly find useful when I’m triggered and can’t find anything nice to say to the other person.

Once your pocket question has bought you some space to gather yourself, the following process can help you get de-triggered and back in the moment:

  • Get Grounded: Put your feet on the floor and focus on feeling the sensation of the balls of your feet and your heels. I call this “Four on the Floor.”
  • Get perspective: In an ideal world, what would I like for the person to do? (ie love my idea, quit bickering over price, provide me the resources to manage the project, see me as a valued partner, buy my product, vote for my proposal, etc.)
  • Get a Plan: What next action coming from me would make it more likely for them to take the ideal action? (ie, stay focused on the places they support me, ask questions to learn more about what matters to them, listen to what they are really saying, being curious instead of defensive, etc.)
  • Get Aware: What is happening inside of me to keep me from taking the ideal action? (heart is pounding, throat is dry, butterflies in stomach, feeling defensive, made wrong, etc.)
  • Get Going: Take a deep breath and follow the logic that keeps your intention moving without throwing the other person under the bus. In other words, Assume Positive Intent!

My intention for the workbook is to help translate the idea of The Elegant Pivot into action – even when it seems difficult or impossible to do. Fighting Francis is by far the most difficult character you might have to address. I’ve had several clients recently who have had to deal with a legitimate Fighting Francis. In every case, assuming positive intent has kept the client in good shape to achieve the greater goal and greater good.

In addition to many of the same “pocket questions” and process above, we’ve used “Five Methods for Navigating a Fighting Francis” as a guidebook. This is both a stand-alone article and will be a chapter in the workbook.

Where do you get triggered? Have you found any patterns? What physical symptoms tell you that you are triggered and reactive? What pocket questions would work for you and the situations you encounter? What practice most quickly brings you back to your best self?