Culture Matters: What retirees at Fukushima nuclear plant can teach us

What would you say to me if I was retired and enjoying my golden years and I told you that I felt it was my duty to go work in the nuclear plant I use to work in where I would most likely die a horrible death due to radiation poisoning?

Would you understand; be shocked; ask me if I had forgotten to take my meds? Our cultural backgrounds would, in large part, influence our response to this question. The cultural values we ‘inherit’ inform our thinking on a daily basis and affect our personal values.

Fukushima retirees head back to ‘work’

I heard a story today on the radio about the retirees of Fukushima Nuclear Plant (Japan) planning on returning to work to help clean up the disaster caused by the recent Tsunami. A past employee started the group, which consists of about 500 people aged from their mid-fifties and up.

They feel that it is their duty to participate in this work because they were a part of running the plant for many years. They also don’t feel that it is fair to ask the younger workers to do this, as they are still young enough to be raising families where the retirees’ children are already grown.

The retirees want to assume the most hazardous parts of the cleanup. They know that this is basically a death sentence and yet they have freely volunteered to do the work.

Who are you working with?

Knowing something about a person’s cultural background is important to helping people solve the challenges they have come to you with. It doesn’t matter whether your role is that of coach, therapist, counselor or something else, having an understanding of your client’s cultural background is going to help you do your job better, get better results for your client and avoid some potentially big misunderstandings.

Questioning with respect

Most people are comfortable talking about their cultural backgrounds when they feel someone is asking them respectfully and with an open mind. Being genuinely curious about the other person and how they see the world through their cultural lens can create the proper atmosphere for a fruitful dialogue.

It’s also important to keep in mind that no one person can speak for their entire culture. There are just too many variables and ways to interpret cultural being-ness. Culture is truly a delicious and at times a totally contrary soup full of subtle and not so subtle flavors bursting to the surface or waiting in the depths to be discovered.

Using images is a nice indirect way to get at some of this information as they help to surface core values naturally and without even asking. Core values can be a reflection of cultural values and surfacing them will give you many opportunities to ask questions that will help you understand your client better.

Cultures within cultures

There can be regional and other differences within cultures that need to be taken into account. I am from the northeastern part of the US originally and now live in the northwest. Even though we are all Americans, there are some significant differences in attitudes and how we express ourselves.

For example, in the northeast people will joke with you and give you a hard time if they like you. Here in the northwest, people interpret this behavior as being rude. Go figure.

Questions for Fukushima

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit down and talk to the retirees planning on going back to work at these reactors? How did they come to this conclusion? Why did they decide to do this? What thoughts and feelings are they having? Why do they feel it is their duty to help with this mess?

If you are Japanese and reading this, you might be wondering why I am even talking about this. Of course the refugees feel it is their duty. What else could they be feeling?

But for an American, I find the mindset of these people to be intriguing, because we would not come to this same decision collectively in my culture. Any retired nuclear reactor employees would likely offer their expertise at most. To have 500 of them volunteer to go clean up the mess would probably never happen as that is not part of our cultural mindset.

What would you like to ask the Fukushima retirees?

If you were in a position to interview these people, what questions would you have for them? Does their decision to help out align with your cultural norms or run contrary to it?


2 logs for the fire…Processing death & dying…part 2

In the first part of this post, I mentioned that I had been thinking about death and dying because recently a cousin and uncle had died. I related a story about how one community uses a ritual of taking two turns to go around and talk about how the departed had hurt them and then how his/her life enhanced their own.

darknessUsing visuals to explain the unexplainable

Carefully chosen images (photographs and paintings) help people to take the unexplainable, such as death and their feelings around it, and start the process of expressing what they are experiencing.

Visuals are akin to our brains in the sense that we do not experience feelings/emotions in a linear fashion. There is a randomness to how we process information/feelings where a variety of thoughts/input, which are sometimes at odds, bounce around until such time as we can articulate them. Images mimic this process, because there are no concrete words attached to them and only the person viewing them can give meaning to the images they have selected out of the millions/billions of possible interpretations.

Images start the process of taking a multitude of hard to describe thoughts/feelings and make them more concrete by virtue of a person selecting them and laying them out before them. The images become a bridge between the subconscious/unexplainable and the conscious and articulated.

Celebrating a life

While death is sad and the grief surrounding it can be painfully raw, I prefer to see it as an opportunity to celebrate the life of a person, to make amends and to speak truths in a compassionate way. The telling of stories can create a three dimensional portrait of a life and offers the tellers a way to work out their loss in a way which can be comforting and transformative.

I realize there can be times when people do not want to celebrate a life because the deceased may have caused extensive harm to those around him or her. The telling of stories can still be a blessing to those who remain because of the potential healing they can offer.

connected heartsA gift for the dying (and those around)

I can think of no greater gift to give someone who is approaching death’s door than to share with that person how friends and family feel about them. It is an act of love to come together and tell the loved one how their life affected those she or he touched.

Asking those who want to be part of the process a question such as ‘What does ___ ‘s life mean to you?’ or ‘How has ___ ‘s affected you?’ or ‘How will you remember _____?’ can unleash a series of powerful stories about the person. Using images with the process can help people to get in touch with their deepest feelings and gives the dying person something to see and hold onto.

After someone dies

When death has already occurred, there is an opportunity to help people make sense of what has transpired. There is a need for closure and understanding how to move on. Again stories are a great way to help people honor the departed and give voice to their loss.

Adding visuals to the process can help people put into words what they are feeling, because they start the process of making the unexplainable concrete and contribute depth to the stories. The simple act of manipulating the pictures with their hands also adds concreteness to the process, which can be beneficial in helping create a bridge between the known and unknowable.

Honoring a life

Do you have special ways or rituals to honor the death of a loved one? Does your family, community or culture have prescribed ways of acknowledging death? What are they?


2 logs for the fire…Processing death & dying

I’ve been thinking about death lately. Within the space of two weeks an uncle and cousin of mine have died. This has raised the question for me of how would I help people process the loss of their loved ones either during the final days of life or after death has occurred?

fire2 logs for the fire

There is a tribe that has a special ritual for when a person dies. At night they build a fire and gather the community around it. Each person brings two logs to the ceremony. They will all take a turn going around the circle to talk about the deceased.

The first round of talking is devoted to saying everything about the person that they did not like or how the person hurt them. When they finish talking, the speaker throws a log on the fire. The second round is devoted to telling all the good things about the person who passed. What that person meant to them and how he/she impacted their life. When they are finished, the speaker throws the second log on the fire.

Most of us are neither complete saints nor complete sinners. We reside somewhere in the middle having lived lives where we have both hurt and helped others. In the story above, the intention is to create a true picture of the deceased. Not one where the person was either completely wonderful or completely bad. A balanced accounting. This allows people to air their hurts and acknowledge their love and respect, which makes it easier for them to grieve and accept the loss of the departed.

What is death/dying?

In my mind, there are two parts to death. There is the person and how his/her life impacted those around them. And then there is death itself. What is it? What happens when we die? Is that it, or is there something more?

These questions are answered in various ways through religion, spiritual practices and personal belief systems. Even if someone believes in a specific religious or spiritual explanation, there could be infinite variations on these beliefs when it gets down to the level of personal interpretation.

What this all adds up to for me is that death is not only unknowable but also inexplicable. There are no words in any language that can fully explain it. And so to help process death, whether it is impending or already occurred, I would want to help people put into words what the person’s life means to the loved ones and to help them understand death in whatever way makes sense to them.

What’s next

In part 2 I’m going to talk about a way of giving a gift to the departing or to those who remain that can be healing for everyone involved.

What do you think?

What happens when we die? Is it OK to say things about the departed that may not be flattering?


Swimming with Great White Sharks

Mmmm, good

I just got back from a trip to the East Coast to visit with some friends. I spent a few days on Cape Cod and on one of these days I went to Lighthouse Beach in Chatham. This area is getting a reputation for having a group of Great White Sharks returning each year. They have gotten so numerous that town officials have closed down a number of beaches to swimmers.

The reason the sharks have been hanging out here is that about 10-15 years ago a colony of Gray seals established themselves on Monomoy Island, which is adjacent to Chatham. The number of seals has grown and is now in the hundreds. In the last 10 years, juvenile Great Whites started showing up to enjoy the, err, menu. By the way, a juvenile white is in the range of 8-10 feet. Now, sharks are being spotted that are around 14 feet. Duh, duh…Duh, duh…Duh duh… Duh duh Duh duh Duh duh Duh duh…Duh Duh DUH!

From a shark’s perspective with all these seals swimming around, can you say yummy?

Stupid is as stupid does

Stories about the Great Whites are being reported in the papers, on TV, YouTube and are the talk of the town. There are signs on the beaches as well as lifeguards flying do not swim flags. At Lighthouse Beach, there is also a patrol boat cruising up and down the beach trying to spot any sharks entering Pleasant Bay, so that the setting for Jaws 5 doesn’t grace these pristine and money-spending touristy waters.

Having said this, I can’t understand what a young couple were thinking when they decided to go for a dip. There were a few other people in the water just past their ankles, but these two decided being in the water over their heads and about 30 feet off the beach was a prudent thing to do. And if you are 30 feet from shore when a big shark shows up, you might as well be a mile from the beach for all the good it will do you. Did I mention that there were seals continually swimming by heading into the bay forming a moving buffet line?

I know what you’re thinking

You’re thinking this is a story about a shark attack. Maybe it is, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out. You also might be thinking that if it is about a shark attack, you’ll be too horrified to read further, but you’ll do it anyway. Like when there is a car accident on the highway and everyone slows down not wanting to see but hoping they do. And you say to yourself that when you get to the scene you won’t look but drive faster to help get traffic moving again; but you still drive slowly anyhow.

Help me!

Culling the herd

To be honest, there was a part of me that hoped a shark would show up and entertain the thought of having these two for an afternoon snack. I mean what kind of idiots go swimming in an area where sharks are known to be? And not just any sharks but Great Whites, the most terrifying predators in the sea. Duh, duh…Duh, duh…

I hung out watching the two swimmers for a while waiting to see if they would be on the menu. I mean wouldn’t it be better if they never had a chance to reproduce? It’s not like we need more stupid in the human gene pool. And don’t pretend like these thoughts would never have gone through your head. Remember the traffic accident? :>)

Stupid is as I do, done, did

I have to admit that I was feeling a bit irritated with these two knuckleheads. I also knew that there was a story in the experience, but I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with my business or myself. But then it dawned on me that I’ve had more than just a few getting in the water with White Shark experiences in my life.

There was that time in Bangkok when I interrupted the nice organized crime fellow as he was trying to con the young European couple. The reason I knew it was a con was because I had almost fallen for it a few weeks before.

The ‘salesman’ warned me several times to mind my own business. I persisted. He then made slashing movements across his throat and told me I was dead. I still persisted. Even when he got right in my face and I pushed him so he landed on his derriere and his three, un-before noticed, ‘colleagues’ jumped off the bench and headed my way, I still didn’t run for my life. OK, so I made my way back to the hotel in a roundabout fashion and hid in my room until it was time to catch my flight.

Let’s not even talk about all the dumb things I did in my teenage years. How much time do you have? I suppose in all the hard earned wisdom I have gained over the years, the probability is still quite high that I’ll do some more knucklehead things. Oh, the humanity.

Sorry I couldn’t report on anyone getting chewed on. But then again, I left before the two swimmers got out of the water…
Duh, duh…Duh, duh…Duh duh… Duh duh Duh duh Duh duh Duh duh …Duh Duh DUH!

When have you gone swimming with the sharks?

So, fess up. What are those stories from your life when you have suffered from knucklehead-itis?


Using images for personal development

Using images is a great way to get past the places of stuck. You know the times when you try looking at a particular situation or problem from many angles and no solutions emerge? Doing an exercise with photographs can help you tap into your inner wisdom and get past the place of stuck. Here are some tips on how to get some breakthroughs.

If you are a coach, counselor or therapist, you can do this exercise with your clients to help them get through a particular challenge.

art toolsWhat you’ll need

  • 2 pieces of background paper
  • Any VisualsSpeak image decks or your own collection of images
  • Writing paper
  • Pen

Choosing a good question for yourself

Choosing a good question is one of the keys to having a successful experience. It should be broad enough to incorporate a wide range of possibilities. It can be focused on a specific challenge but make sure there is some room for your mind to move.

Try one of these:

  • What do I need to move on?
  • What do I need to do to solve this problem?
  • What is the piece of the puzzle I am missing?

Here’s how you do it

Lay out the two pieces of paper side-by-side with a little space between them. The paper on the left represents where you are today and the right represents where you would like to be in the future.

Give yourself a maximum of five minutes to go through your images and choose the ones that jump out at you. Don’t over-think it. Then arrange the images on the two pieces of paper. Again, don’t think, do.

Write it down

After you complete arranging your images, use your  paper and pen to write down the story of everything the images are telling you. Pay particular attention to any new ideas or sparks. Now walk away from the writing and your collage for a day.

Do it again

When you later return to your collage, ask yourself the same question and rearrange the same images in a different way. Do you notice anything different? Write these other insights down. You can repeat this process for several days if you choose.

Talk it out

Another way to approach the telling of the story is to share it with a trusted friend. Sometimes putting these thoughts, ideas, and insights into words can add extra power to the process.

The last and most important step

This last part is crucial for the successful outcome of your exercise. I want you to stand on your head and scream like a monkey. Just kidding. I only wanted to see if you would do it. But please, send pictures anyhow. :>)

What was the experience like for you?

I would love to hear about your experiences doing this exercise or anything similar. Leave a comment. Thanks for reading.


What do you want your legacy to be? part 2

In part 1 of this post, I talked about how my business partner and I used this question to explore why we had started VisualsSpeak/Exploring New Options as a way to understand our core values around doing the work. In this post I’m going to relate to you the answers I got for myself by doing an exercise using visuals.

The exercise was done on our online facilitation system, the ImageCenter. I used the prompt “What do you want your legacy to be?” and chose the Exploring My Options image deck. When I do these exercises I keep the prompt in the back of my mind and select the images without thinking much about why I’m choosing them. Then I arrange them, again not thinking much about placing them.

Some random thought fragments

Before I tell you what all of this means to me in coherent sentences, I’m going to let the process unfold by sharing the thought fragments that are popping into my head.

  • People at the center
  • Sweetness
  • Better world
  • Scaling the peaks
  • Getting to the next rung of life
  • Learning to fly
  • Path that leads to magical self
  • Embracing others/self
  • Making connections by tunneling deeper

What I want my legacy to be

I’m more than a little surprised by what has come up for me in this exercise. Close friends know me as introverted, and shy until I get to know someone. I am not a social butterfly and have always had just a handful of close friends around me. That is why what came up during the process surprised me.

It’s about helping people

I knew before going into the process that part of why I am involved in VisualsSpeak is to help people better their lives by connecting deeper with themselves and others. I just didn’t realize that this is almost the entire reason for me.

Teaching people about how to facilitate processes is another component of what we do here. I have taught ESL and enjoyed it very much. There is a spark that happens for me when I can help somebody understand a concept. Not sure why this is but there you have it.

Let the sparks fly

Part of my legacy in doing this work is to help people scale the peaks, get through the maze, find their path, and get to the next rung of life. Sparks fly in me when I see them fly in others. There is a connection to self and others when deep connections are made to where people are and how that helps them move forward. It is contagious.

The process, and the choices people make around it, is unique. Each person has buried within them an inner desire, a deep calling to move forward. It doesn’t matter so much what this means individually. One person may want fame while another may want to become a better parent, worker, partner, or all-around human being. It is being part of a business/process that helps them accomplish these things that I want as part of my legacy.

Teaching is learning

There is an expression that says ‘If you want to learn something, teach it’. I know this is true for me. There is a cyclical nature to teaching. Study something. Teach it. Learn from the teaching by becoming the student. Go back and learn how to teach it better. What all this boils down to is that the teaching of what we do at VisualsSpeak is part of the legacy.

There is another aspect to teaching that is important and I hope it shows through as being part of the legacy; and that is humility. No matter how much we learn or know about what we are doing, there is always someone else with a good insight or more expertise or ability coming along.

Being big advocates of participant led growth processes is a way that we embed humility into what we do. We teach facilitators to think of themselves as guides and that each individual or group has wisdom to share. It is part of the art of deep listening and implies mutual respect. No one has all the answers, especially about someone else. This is a part of my legacy that I am proud of because respect and humility are basic building blocks for helping people be successful.

Not about the money

What I don’t see in my collage is anything that has to do with money. Don’t get me wrong I like to have money. It allows me to have a nice place to live, to eat well, to travel and support the people I think are doing good things in the world. It’s just not the primary objective of my involvement.

This is kind of a peculiar thing for a business owner to be saying. Making money from the business is a symbol that my efforts are having an impact. My philosophy is that by helping people be successful the money will follow.

A Better World Foundation

I’ve had this idea for a while that if I had a gazillion dollars, or slightly less, I would start a foundation. The tag line would be ‘Bettering the lives of children’. Admittedly I have a soft spot for kids. I like the idea of supporting them through education, music, art, better living conditions and a whole host of other ways.

I realized through doing this exercise that I, in a sense, have already started the foundation. The work I do here at VisualsSpeak is improving communication among people and helping them get the breakthroughs they need to better their lives. I believe there is a trickle down affect from people getting insights and positively changing their lives; and that is that they will change the world for the best, which will help better the lives of children.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I would love to hear from you about what you want your legacy to be. Leave a comment. Thanks for reading.


What do you want your legacy to be?

Use this question in your sessions to get insights into your clients.

Christine and I were discussing legacy the other day. We were taking a different conversational path to figuring out why we created VisualsSpeak/Exploring New Options and the visual approach to facilitation we have developed.

Some of the questions we explored are: Why are we doing it? What are the core values that drive us? What is the end result we want from doing this? How does it feel when we are working aligned with our values (legacy) and how does it feel when we are not?

The question “What do you want your legacy to be?” is an intriguing one, because it asks us to jump to the end and then look back to the present to see if everything matches up. It is a question that can hold us accountable to ourselves. By going back and forth between our desired legacies and where we are now, we create internal checks and balance systems to help guide us in our day-to-day lives.

In this two-part post I’m going to suggest some ways you can work with clients using this question to help them gain clarity and perspective on their lives. In part 2, I’m going to practice what I preach by doing a visual exercise on the ImageCenter asking myself this question. Oh, boy.

A visual approach to talking about legacies

We’re big proponents of using images to enhance conversations and getting big breakthroughs. Combine this question with one of our image decks to get the most from the process. I’m not going to spell out the steps you need to do a visual exercise here. For that refer to the post “Your client is overwhelmed…What do you do?” as it is a similar process.

A person’s legacy is about their core values

Asking a person about their legacy is a great way to find out about their core values. These are what make them tick. How well they’re aligned with them can give you clues about how to help your clients move forward and be successful.

Money is not a core value

People may tell you that they want to leave money as part of their legacy. That’s fine and quite normal. However, money is not a core value. It may be a core-driver depending on the person. If someone tells you that money is part of their legacy, dig a little deeper to see what money means or represents to them. This is where you’ll find the gold, so to speak.

Money can mean all sorts of things. What does it do for them? Does it ensure their family will be all right? If so, then one of their core values is family. You might dig a little deeper to find out what does it mean for the person to know that their family is ‘all right’.

Ways to explore legacy with clients

This question can be used to unlock all sorts of information about people of any age. It can be used in coaching, counseling and therapeutic situations. The difference between using it in these types of settings boils down to how far you dig and what areas you dig into. Always be clear about your role and the agreement you have with your client.

Creating a personal vision

Asking your client about their legacy gets them to think about how they are living their lives now and how that compares to the ultimate goals of their life. Also, what they might see themselves leaving aren’t necessarily going to be physical things such as money and real estate but could be more along the lines of emotional gifts such as love, respect, and wisdom.

In a sense, you are asking them to talk about their highest and noblest selves. In the back of their minds, people may be thinking along the lines of ‘If I live life to the best of my ability, people will remember me fondly and with love. They will know that I contributed something of value.’

Getting non-profits aligned

Another good place to use this question is with non-profits, because their work is usually all about core values. It’s the intersection of the core values of the people doing the work with their supporters that often decide how successful the organization will be. Non-profits that can articulate their values in a way people can understand and relate to are far more likely to get the support (financial and otherwise) they need than ones that don’t.

This question can also be used when a non-profit is going through a period of transition as they grow and have to face the realities of maintaining the work. These times are ripe for reviewing their values and ascertaining whether anything needs to change in order to continue doing the work and making it more relevant to the new environment.

Planning for Retirement

People in retirement or looking ahead to it are another good audience to pose the question. They are in a state of mind of looking to the future, so it would be natural for them to want to answer this question.

How are you going to make a difference?

I’ll be talking more about how this question relates to me, and the work I’m doing with VisualsSpeak in Part 2.

So, what do you want your legacy to be?


Using images to get past the small talk

Are you looking for a way to help you get past the small talk stage and to what matters most to your clients? A method that is fast, fun and doesn’t feel invasive?

It’s the get-to-know-you phase, which is sometimes referred to as doing an assessment or intake. Your new client is telling you about her life and goals. He may be running down his list of accomplishments to give you an overview of where he’s been so that you have a better understanding of his desired next steps. All of this is important information.

But at some point, you’re going to want to dig in a little deeper. Your client has told these same stories over and over to many different people but if that were all it took to figure things out he/she wouldn’t need you.

Digging without prying

People are most receptive to divulging more personal information about themselves when they feel someone isn’t prying or trying to get them to say things they don’t want to say. It is the art of asking that helps people share the things that you need to know to help them along their path. And using visuals can help you accomplish this without your client feeling pushed.

Be the Sherpa

Sherpas are the rugged guides that help mountain climbers scale the peaks of some of the world’s largest mountains. They carry huge loads, make camp, cook, and get injured climbers to safety. They are often the unsung heroes but without them there would be no glory for the climbers.

You as a coach, counselor or therapist are very much like the Sherpa. You act as guide and help people carry the load until they are ready to solo. You provide the base from which your clients attain new heights.

Help them to visualize the path and know the terrain

Here’s a method to get you past the small talk and into the juicy stuff that will help you to meet your clients’ goals. There are 2 steps you need to take to prepare for the process. The first is selecting a good question to ask the client and the second is to select a group of images that will help leap the conversation forward.

What do you have to make the climb?

The question you ask is one of the keys to knowing your client. In a sense you are asking them to unpack all of their climbing equipment and spread it out on the ground so that you both can see what they have brought to the task. Are they missing anything? Do they have an abundance of something they can utilize to make the trek more fulfilling? Does their compass match up with the route they said they want to take?

The question should be broad enough so that people have a number of directions they can take. Give them the freedom to express themselves fully.

Try these questions:

  • What matters most to you?
  • What has the most importance in your life?

Didn’t I already cover this?

You may be asking yourself if these questions are redundant. You most likely got some answers to these in your initial conversation. The beauty of using visuals is that they will take your client far deeper than words alone. Your client is going to add more to what they have already told you by divulging things like some of their core beliefs, values and dreams.

Getting to know the trails

The other important part to this process is choosing the best set of images for the desired outcome. If you are using the ImageCenter, try either the Visioning or Exploring Passion image decks. The printed VisualsSpeak image products could also be used.

When your clients do this exercise they are setting out on an explorative journey. There are many paths that they can take. The combination of the right question and the images will help reveal the information you and they need to choose the right ones.

Listening deeply

Tell your client the question you want him/her to explore. Have them choose images, which relate to the question. Tell them to not over-think the images they are selecting. Five minutes is plenty of time to do the exercise.

When the client is done arranging the pictures, have them tell you the story of the images. Listen deeply for anything they didn’t tell you before. Did you hear any core values mentioned? Are these values in sync with their stated goals? What are the beliefs they have about themselves and their goals? These are the kinds of things you want to pay attention to as your client speaks.

How do you help people past the small talk?

Have any suggestions for helping people get past the small talk? Share them in the comments section below.



Your client is overwhelmed…What do you do?


We’ve all had the experience of feeling overwhelmed. It’s not a pleasant state to be in. There are a million things to do, but we can’t seem to be able to pick one and get it done.

Watching a client go through this is frustrating. He may sit there quietly not being able to describe what is going on at all. Or she may be talking so rapidly that the sentences run together in an ever increasing blur, which only increases the overwhelm.

There are different approaches to dealing with a client in this situation. Using visuals can help people quickly get past the overwhelmed stage and back on track. Let’s talk about just one approach so that we don’t get, err, overwhelmed with ideas.

Before we begin to talk about the method, there is something you can do to help your client get centered right now.

Just Breathe

Breaking News…Humans need to breathe! Yes it’s true, people need to breathe. What is also true is that by having your client take a few slow and deliberate breaths will help them begin to calm down. This is a good first step and helps prepare them for seeing things in a new light.

Start at the End

A good way to help people get past feeling overwhelmed is to direct their attention to a more hopeful scenario. Think of it as a process for creating the magical fairy tale of their life. You can accomplish a few things with this approach.

  1. Distract them from their current situation
  2. Get them thinking about the bigger picture
  3. Incentivize them to work through what is bogging them down
Finding Center

Once upon a time…

Now that your client is taking some calming breaths, you’re going to set up an exercise using visuals to help them see past their current chaotic state. If you are a VizPeeps member try using either the Exploring My Options or Exploring Passion image deck. If you don’t own any VisualsSpeak image decks, you’ll have to rely on whatever you have on hand.

Next, you’ll need to choose a prompt that gets your client to think in terms of their ideal future scenario. Try these or create variations of them:

  • What would your ideal life look like?
  • If you had no other concerns, what would a perfect life look like?

Tell your client the prompt and give them five minutes to choose and arrange their images.

Listen closely as I tell you my story

Have your client describe to you the story they created around the prompt and images they chose. You need to listen closely for the key points and any of your client’s core values that arise from this conversation. These are going to be the clues you’ll need to get them out of feeling overwhelmed.

Go back to the beginning

The images will work their magic in helping your client see a better future. This is the part of the process where you get the opportunity to work your magic in helping them break down the steps they need to take to get past feeling overwhelmed and heading towards their ideal future.

How do you help your clients get past feeling overwhelmed?

I would love to hear your ideas on how you help people get through these difficult situations. Please share them in the comments section. Thanks

3 Ways to Use Visual Tools With Your Clients

How can you use visual tools with your clients? Lots of ways, but here are three to get you started.

Use visual tools for the assessment/intake


Using visuals at the first meeting is a great way to get to know your new client and get some concrete ideas of what their goals are. Usually people will share more of what they want and what makes them tick when images are introduced into the session. This will save you a lot of time and help you quickly get clear on who you’re working with.

Don’t forget that when people use images to tell their stories and share their goals that the visuals are going to help them (and you) access their core beliefs and values. When you can help them align their goals with their core, the chances for a successful outcome just went up.

Try prompts such as:

  • What do you want from our time together?
  • What are your goals for our time together?

Checking in along the way

Summer Solstice

Using images along the way can help you to move your client to the next step of their process. Creating a collage can help them sharpen and/or reevaluate their progress. This is a good way to do some reflecting on what they have accomplished and what still needs to be done.

Try prompts like:

  • Where was I before we started/where am I now/where do I want to be?
  • What supports me/What is holding me back?

Ending your time together

Along a Path

You and your client have worked together for a while. It’s now time to create an ending for all the great work you’ve done. It’s time to celebrate successes and to look ahead. There are a number of ways to approach this ending phase using visual tools.

Reflecting back on accomplishments – Having clients create a collage about your time together can help them see more clearly all of their accomplishments and how far they have come. This can help cement a sense of all the great work they have done.

Next steps – Visual tools are ideal for helping people to decide on their next steps. Where are they going? What do they need to do now? What resources do they need? Use them at this phase to create action plans.

Dreaming the ‘impossible’ – Images can help people at this stage to dream big. Use them to help people vision something beyond what seems attainable and into the universe of possibilities. There doesn’t have to be any ‘reality’ to their vision just an idea that they can dream the ‘impossible’ and by doing so put it in the realm of what is possible.

What has been your experience?

At what points do you use visual tools with your clients? How do they help your clients in various phases of your work together?

Can Our Stories Hold Us Back?

Sometimes the personal identity stories that we tell about ourselves can be the greatest impediment to creating the change in our lives that we want to make. The kinds of stories I’m talking about are the ones that define us, give us our identity, and by speaking them are how we are known.

All of us have them, and they can change depending on the situation we are in: at work, with family, as a parent, as part of an organization, at school, etc. Stories about ourselves are necessary, because they help us to identify our place in the world and can help give comfort and meaning to our lives.

In this post I want to talk about the need to sometimes interrupt the stories we tell, so that we can examine them in the context of where our life is now. Stories can get stuck in a rut. What was true about our lives five years ago may not be true today. And yet we may be telling the same story about ourselves.

How do visuals help people get out of the story-telling rut?


Above is an image I created on the ImageCenter to help me explore the metaphor of helping people get out of their story-telling rut. This image helped me to write what I have been struggling to put into words. That was a different kind of story–telling rut and perhaps the subject of another post.

At VisualsSpeak we use photographs and paintings to provide people with a lens with which they can see their stories from another perspective. Using images can help us to make connections to hidden parts of ourselves and surface a different perspective we may not be aware of. Even if our story is not in a rut, the very least examining a personal identity story can do is to add depth and nuance to it.

One reason we like using visual methods for the purpose of looking look at stories is because when people use images they are the ones adding richness and depth to the telling, which has an empowering effect. And by using visuals we can help examine these stories in a way that is gentle, compassionate and doesn’t have the appearance of prying.

Wired for stories

We all tell stories. It’s how we’re wired. Just about everything we humans say is communicated through story. Books, magazines, movies are all stories. The six o’clock news will tell you ‘Our top story tonight is…’ Even company reports are stories told in the language of mathematics. Every individual or group has a story.

It’s not unusual for therapists or mental health counselors to hear clients frame their story in a negative context based on some trauma the person has experienced. Part of their job is to help people examine and re-frame the experience, so that they can start to develop a new sense of self. In a way, it’s much easier to understand the need to help someone change his or her story from the perspective of a mental health professional, because a personal identity story based on a traumatic event is often about negative self-image, which doe not help someone live a fulfilling life.

Moving from the obvious to the not-so-obvious is the need for those of us working with individuals or groups in a personal growth area to interrupt and have our clients examine the stories they are telling. These stories have to be examined for their validity in the present moment, not years ago, if we want to help the individual or group to move forward.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that people purposely try to deceive us. Most likely the person telling the story believes what he or she is saying. After all, the story may have served them very well. And it may be perfectly valid.

Insert the story-telling rut metaphor here

Think of the stories people tell as a car driving down an icy road. The only way you can drive, without losing control, is by keeping the tires in the ruts created by the many cars traveling through the same ruts over and over again.

For those of you who have never experienced driving in cold climates what happens is this; Cars drive through snow and ice until ruts (paths) are formed. Drivers will stay in the ruts because that is the safest place to be. If your car starts to leave the rut, you can lose control of it very quickly and then bad things can happen.

The stories we tell about ourselves are very much the same way. They become ruts that are safer to stay in then to veer off and create a new one. After a while, the story becomes so normal and ingrained that we don’t even realize that we’re in a rut and that other possibilities exist.

For those of us who facilitate personal growth processes, such as coaches, counselors, etc, part of our job is to gently interrupt the story being told in a way that helps our clients to make sure that the story and goals being stated by the client match up. What we really are doing is to make sure that the core beliefs and values of the client are in sync with his or her goals.

It is far easier for us to make changes and achieve goals when our values and beliefs are aligned with what we are doing. Are they always a perfect match? No. Are there times when we have to make choices other than ideal? Absolutely. But the closer we come to aligning our core beliefs and values with what we want to achieve, the more energy, focus and commitment we’ll have in the pursuit.

Meet John Jones

Here’s a story you might hear.

My name is John Jones. I have been married for 27 years and have two children. I graduated from business school with an MBA. I am a vice-president at XYZ Company and have been there for the past 25 years. I am in charge of company-wide logistics and have traveled all over the world. I have a passion for making sure things run smoothly! I love what I do and want to get some coaching so that I can advance my career.

This is the kind of story we all tell about who we are. John has probably told it hundreds of times. It is neat, compact and conveys that John has a well-defined life. This is how his friends, family and associates know him. It’s perfect and unshakable.

The problem arises when John wants to make a change in his life. His story is so ingrained that he might not be able to get past it to see a big picture view of all his options. And because he has been telling essentially the same story for many years, it may be preventing him from acknowledging any changes in his core values and values, which might be either in direct contrast or slightly different to the story he’s telling.

The story unexamined

Let’s look at some possibilities for what might happen if we helped John to examine his story. One possibility is that his story is just fine. But by taking the time to help him examine it, he can now add some more depth and nuance to it. It’s kind of like getting a tune-up for a car. The car worked fine before but now it’s driving like a dream.

The other possibility is that what John is saying (wanting to advance his career) does not match up with his core beliefs and values at this point in his life. At one time they did but not now.

After some questioning, John remembered that as a young man he thought about doing a stint with the Peace corp. But then he got a great job offer and his career took off. In reflecting on his current life, he realizes that he regrets not joining the Peace Corp and thinks this might be the time for him to do it.

Or maybe John wants to spend a lot more time with his grandchildren but all the travel he does keeps him away from them. Or maybe he would like to retire and go fly-fishing on all seven continents. Or maybe he feels a draw towards putting his talents to work in service of a non-profit. Or maybe he wants to do some traveling with his wife.

You get the idea. It’s not unusual for people to have these realizations when doing personal examination processes using visuals. Not everyone completely changes the course of their life as in the above examples, but the outcome of having these insights is that people go away with a lot more energy and a clearer idea of where they’re headed, because they are in alignment with themselves.

Ever have a story that held you back?

Have you ever discovered that your personal identity story was holding you back? Have you ever been working with a client and have him/her realize that what they had been saying didn’t match up with what they really wanted?

In Part 2 of this post, I’m going to talk more about how using visuals can help our clients examine their stories in a way that is gentle, doesn’t involve ‘prying’ and best of all they will do it without us even having to ask them!