What would great look like?

Chapter 1 of any book on parenting toddlers teaches parents to retrain ourselves first.

Instead of saying “Don’t run”…we need to say “Walk, please.”

Instead of “Don’t hit your brother”…we need to say “Tell your brother what he can do so you don’t get upset next time.”

This is because when parents only focus on what’s wrong, we’re not delivering a solution or a better alternative. We are succeeding as rule-makers but failing as teachers.

I know this.


When I’m upset or angry, I go right back into the old, easy pattern of telling someone what they shouldn’t be doing.

Humans are made to identify quickly what’s wrong in the situation. It’s survival instinct…we’re made to sense danger, identify it and extinguish it.

It’s much harder to identify what great would look like.

I recently became an eager, self-study student of Cy Wakeman’s book, No Ego. In it she prescribes questions we can use to help others through a drama-heavy venting session.

And, guess what?

These questions also work on ourselves when we’re pissed off, perturbed, or just-straight-angry about something or at someone.

A few weeks ago, I failed my first No Ego exam.

There’s one particular topic that breeds immediate tension in our home. After 16 years of marriage, it’s as if my husband and I come to the topic already prepared to disagree.

And, sure enough, we fell back into our old script and pattern.

This time, I went a step further. I told him everything he does wrong when we talk about this particular subject.

I told him nothing about what great would look like.

No wonder we’ve stalled out without progress on this topic for over a decade-and-a-half.

Without any solution-focused suggestions from me, he’s just doing his best to navigate the minefield.

And, the thing is, we’ve handled much trickier topics. This one shouldn’t be as hard as it is.

But, dancing a new dance (so to speak) takes some vision-making.

Some effort.

It takes me spending 10 minutes to write out what I think great would look like. (This was a difficult exercise. I knew what great didn’t look like, but describing what great would be was no small endeavor. It also took some extreme humility to accept what I would need to shift in order to reach great.)

So, the next time you feel like giving someone details on all they’ve done wrong, try something more effective. Your commentary on their past actions won’t help the situation. (“Don’t hit your brother.”)

Instead, share what great would look like. (“Tell your brother what he can do so you don’t get upset next time.” )

Some additional coaching questions from No Ego (and I highly recommend this book!)

  • What did you do to help?
  • What do you know for sure?
  • What could you do next to add value?
  • Are you using your opinion to move the idea forward or to stop the action?
  • What would add more value right now – your opinion or your action?
  • Would you rather be right or be happy?

Cy Wakeman has an abundance of free resources on her website, Reality Based Leadership.

Here are my favorites:

  • The SBAR: SBAR stands for situation, background, assessment, recommendations. This simple framework helps you work through what is going on and where you’ve filled in the blank of fact vs. story, then pushes you to develop some possible paths forward.
  • This Means That: Our brains are made to find the easiest path forward. This is efficient, but also means we risk living in a constant state of assumptions. The This-Means-That-Exercise prompts us to slow down and separate fact from fiction and consider how we’d move forward with only what we know for sure.

With a little brain re-training, we can spend more of our time living in fact vs. fiction.

Instead of focusing on everything that is wrong, we can give our energy to build what great would be.

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