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?


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?

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