Whether you’re having a career problem or any type of problem, reframing the issue can have a profound impact.
Sometimes a simple question can change your life.
Or at least your dirty dishes.
As a coach, I’m interested in how questions can reframe a problem. When I teach my clients how to coach others in their life — to ask those good questions — I often tell an allegorical story about my family’s dirty dishes.
The dishes were a source of conflict in my family: I like having a clean kitchen and my family didn’t, well, seem to care as much.
It’s not just me: For women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore, according to an April 2018 study from the Council of Contemporary Families reported in The Atlantic. Who does the dishes “can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship.”
This was a perennial problem and one I couldn’t seem to figure out without a lot of reminding and prompting, none of which I wanted to do. I found myself resentful and angry.
And then a friend asked me the lucky question.
“Do you want your family to do all the dishes, or do you just want them to contribute?” she asked curiously.
This is not a profoundly skillful or insightful question, but it stopped me in my tracks.
That question reframed the source of my frustration: I don’t need my spouse and kids to do the dishes perfectly, I just need everyone to help. Without complaining.
One family meeting later, everyone had agreed to do dishes 10 minutes a day. We created a chart for tracking, and dire consequences (involving loss of screen time) if they choose not to do their 10 minutes.
“But I’m really busy with school,” one kid protested. “I don’t have time.”
“No one in this household is too busy to spare 10 minutes a day,” replied my husband, which is one of the reasons I married him.
Because of my friend’s question, I now have 30 minutes of dishwashing help every day, with no complaining. That means three and a half hours of extra time in my week. That’s 182 hours a year.
I can get a lot done in 182 hours.
When I tell this story to my clients, I explain that anyone could have asked that simple question. You can ask your manager, your spouse, friend, or employee a useful question that reframes the problem. It might just change their life.
Or at least their dirty dishes.