by Fatima Doman

I recently gave a presentation to one of the largest law-enforcement departments in the United States. I had been warned not to expect much interaction or buy-in from the captains and lieutenants in attendance. The training leader said, “Don’t let them intimidate you, Fatima. You will probably be looking at a lot of blank, stoic faces and they may even be openly hostile to positive psychology. Don’t expect them to talk much.”

What I encountered was the total opposite. We discussed the stats: The law enforcement profession carries with it some of the highest suicide and divorce rates of any profession. The challenge, they told me, is that, to survive on the streets, you have to be extremely adept at following highly skilled training in the moment. What if they could also train for resiliency and develop the ability to come down faster off the adrenaline rush to a place of emotional and mental clarity? What if they could develop the very strengths that are shown to counteract post-traumatic stress? They were so energized by the skills and tools of the strengths training that I often could not get them to stop talking in their groups and to move on to the next topic!

One of the captains came up to me afterward and said he would like to see positive psychology taken into the prison system. He said, “Could you imagine the impact if we provided this information to each new inmate? Most of them have probably never had anyone help them identify their strengths, let alone received much positive feedback, ever.”

In my book, Authentic Strengths, I offer strengths coaching tools that you can use to coach yourself or others. Here are a few essential tools that I believe anyone can benefit from.

Coach vs. Critic
Mindset is a significant factor in creating a thriving life. Let me share a tool with you that I call the “Coach vs. Critic Model©.” It helps people assess their mindset (thinking style), behavior, and outcomes. You can use it to assess how you show up in your relationships—with self and with others. Leaders can also use it to improve their leadership style. In addition, this model can be used with teams to promote a positive work environment. This model (which I adapted from the Columbia University Coaching Program) helps clarify whether and how much one is living in a “Critic Mindset” or a “Coach Mindset.” The goal, of course, is to increase the time spent on the Coach side.

I invite you to stand as you read each column of words and notice the difference in how your body feels or responds to the words characterizing each thinking style. Pay close attention to how each column of words affects you:

Critic Mindset
Weakness focus
Fixed mindset
Afraid of change
Either/or thinking
Looks for offense

Coach Mindset
Strengths focus
Growth mindset
Open to change
Creative thinking
Looks for intent

How did that feel? What did you experience? You may be surprised by the insights this simple activity evoked for you. People who have done this exercise report discernable physical, mental, and emotional experiences depending on the words they are reading.

Solution-Focused Questions
Many of life’s toughest issues aren’t usually solved by having all the right answers, but rather by asking the right questions. The mindset you choose, whether coach or critic, depends upon the questions you ask yourself. Whether coaching yourself or others, asking powerful questions will help you gain real clarity and insight.

The nature of the question matters significantly. A study that explored solution-focused questions versus problem-focused questions found that a solution focus resulted in much better goal attainment. Participants were more energized and motivated by the positivity of those questions.

Examples of problem-focused questions are:

  • How long has this been a problem?
  • What are your thoughts about this problem?
  • What impact is thinking about this problem having on you?
  • In contrast, examples of solution-focused questions are:

  • Imagine a solution—what does it look like? 

  • What are some ways you could use your strengths to create a solution?
  • What impact is thinking about this solution having on you?
  • What do you notice in the difference between the two sets of questions above? Each set opens up a completely different trajectory for your energy and efforts. It’s a well-known principle that what we choose to focus on grows. Wise coaches know the importance of choosing a solution focus. Whether coaching self or others, your job as a strengths coach is simple: Ask open-ended, solution-oriented questions, which allow you to get to both the content of what has happened, and also the emotional responses to the situation. I always encourage my clients to not just to state or think about hopeful solutions, but also to articulate and to FEEL the effects of those solutions, thereby empowering them with added motivation.

    STRONG Questions
    I’ve shared a few coaching questions from my book below—ones I’ve found particularly useful for silencing the inner critic. Since the questions are rooted in positive psychology and are designed to build mental and emotional strength, I call them “STRONG Questions®.” The right questions can unlock a wealth of understanding and unleash a world of potential.

  • Am I using inner coach or inner critic language?
  • What are the objective facts in this situation—without biased interpretation?
  • What “fascinating” thing can I learn from this experience?
  • How is this new perspective shifting my behavior in a positive way?
  • What is a coach-oriented way to respond to this situation that will serve me best?
  • Exploring your strengths will help you connect to your authentic passion and purpose—your personal contribution to the world. This personal contribution is ignited to full flame when you use your strengths regularly, that core part of yourself that energizes, and gives life its savor. Whether you are using positive psychology to coach yourself or learning to coach others, engaging your strengths will bring out the best in you and in those you seek to positively influence.

    Fatima Doman, author, executive coach, and CEO of Authentic Strengths Advantage®, is passionate about coaching people to measurably succeed by leveraging their strengths. Her areas of expertise are positive leadership, performance, emotional intelligence, transitions, succession planning and developing executive vitality through whole life balance. Fatima has worked successfully with many Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 clients representing a variety of industries, including technology, consulting, electronics, health care, insurance, media, higher education, government, aerospace, the US military, NASA, law enforcement, and the UNCR. Fatima holds an Advanced Executive Coaching certification from the Columbia University Executive Coaching Program. She served as co-founder and co-director of FranklinCovey’s Global Executive Coaching Practice, and was a faculty member of the FranklinCovey/Columbia Business School Executive Education Coach Certification Program. Fatima has appeared as an expert coach on television and radio, and is the author of Authentic Strengths: Positive Psychology Coaching, which has been featured by the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Training workshops based on her book have been licensed globally.