As part of my continuous learning journey to be a better coach and leader, I took Alan Seale’s course on Transformational Presence Leadership and Coaching last fall in the Netherlands. As I was to find out, the power of Transformational Presence -approach comes from simple yet high-potential tools that enable a deeper level of engagement, communication and change. The core focus is in strengthening a personal way of Being, that enable better ways of Doing.
One of the most impressive – and at the same time simple – tools that I’ve been practicing ever since the course (with amazing results) is called the Four Levels of Engagement. This is a tool that doesn’t require any previous experience in coaching or leadership. A tool that each and every one of us can use, every day, to reach a nice flow and better results in life. It is not per se easy, as we often tend to be sucked into drama or the mentality of fixing things when things are not working the way we wish they were. The benefit of the model is to bring awareness into the ways we listen, engage and stay present and new ways to relate to others – in a coaching, but also in any other conversation.
The D(i)SCO model consists of 4 levels of awareness and engagement that are present in our everyday situations. The acronym DSCO comes from the words Drama, Situation, Choice and Opportunity. The “i” is there for mainly pronounciation purposes, but for me it also represents the fact that this tool is focused on decisions that I (myself) make in how I choose to engage in those life situations.
Here are the different levels, with core questions attached to them, and a brief description of the focus of each level.
|DRAMA – Who’s fault is this? Who do I blame? Can you believe this happened?||Here the focus is in us reacting to the storyteller’s emotions. It is very understandable, since reacting to each other’s emotions gives an impression of empathy – and understanding. However, this is an endless circle, that keeps just going on and on, not creating path to any change for good (instead, it often makes things worse)|
SITUATION – How can we fix it, and how quickly?
Here we focus on the practical ways to help the storyteller get back to the normal, or reach new solutions. Very intriguing, and gives a sense of “getting there”. However, we might very easily stick to the easiest and quickest solutions – where no learning, no paradigm shifts in thinking, no sustainable new possibilities are not considered.
CHOICE – Who do I choose to be here? What do I choose as my relationship to this situation?
Here the focus is in choosing our own stand in relationship to the storyteller and his/her story. We consider ourselves, the ways of being, and the relationship to the issue at hand. This level invites us to a shift in awareness – expanding and deepening our view, and placing ourselves as a “solution”. The power is taken back from outside forces to ourselves.
OPPORTUNITY – What’s the opportunity here? The message? The larger view? What wants to happen?
This level is where the true power lies. We realize that the situation we’re in has a purpose. It wants to tell us something, to help us clearly recognize what is not working or what wants to change.
There’s a joyful relation between the 4 levels. We come the realize that the bigger the drama, the greater the opportunity. The drama is a wake-up call alerting that something wants to shift or transform. The key is to leave the drama be, skip the situational analysis, and to “drop down below”, to the level of opportunity. When we realize the opportunity, there are usually profound shifts in how we choose to engage with it, how we really want to be in relation to it – what role we choose to take. Which in turn changes the solutions and actions we come to think of, and how we choose to act. The end result? More insight, more clarity, more powerful choices, solutions and actions.
The best way to learn a tool in practice, is to try it out. So, in the course we did a group learning exercise. It demonstrated very well what typically happens in each level. As we concluded, “this is how it always happens”. One person of the group represented a storyteller, and the rest of the group was supposed to react according to the level we were practicing.
DRAMA. A storyteller told about a challenging situation that was going on in his/her life. The whole group first reacted as people usually naturally do, being in Drama. They aimed to be empathetic, to set themselves in the storytellers situation. The air was filled with noise and energy, while everyone made their best to let the storyteller know how they “really understand”, and how they’ve experienced “exactly things like that” in their own lives. Result? Confusion, and sense of “not getting anywhere”.
SITUATION. When we entered into the level of the Situation, competition spurted on the stage. Each group member had “the best solution” that would definitely work for the storytellers situation, to fix it. There was debate on why these solutions would or would not work. Result? Frustration, even anger. And the storyteller was left with a feeling of “too much”.
CHOICE and OPPORTUNITY. When we finally arrived into the realm of Choice and Opportunity, the group members turned into listeners, instead of talkers. There was a sudden shift in volume and pace of interaction – things slowed down, giving space for real reflection. Each person focused on what they had heard the storyteller say, what might be the real message behind the story, and what role could they choose for themselves that would support the situation in the best possible way. Most of them chose to just be there, supporting. Result? A great shift.
Now, when I reflect on the D(i)SCO model to some of the more traditional coaching models (or other problem-solving ways of working), it is clear that the traditional ways focus on the level of the Situation. We think about an issue, and use our best practices to create new solutions to it. And yes, this way of working can take the clients (or yourself) out of drama, and help in generating new solutions.
The problem is that we might stay in the level of quick fixes. It’s like putting a bandage on a wound and expecting it to heal the wound. Yes, it covers it up and protects the dirt from infecting the wound and making it worse. But does it prevent you from getting wounded again in the same place when the bandage is removed? No it doesn’t.
When we instead put our focus on the recognition that we have the possibility to listen to the bigger picture and the power to choose a whole new level of being, a new world of solutions opens up in front of us. And how to get there? How to “drop down below”, to the level of being? Well, there’s a world of methods to do that, and they all start by – yes – taking a couple of deep breaths.
It was me who was the storyteller in this exercise. It was me who experienced the great shift as a result of it. The feeling of support, understanding, and people holding space for the best solution to appear in my situation, was incredible. I didn’t have to push it, but the “role” I needed to take, and the solutions I could find through this new way of being, just appeared to me – relieving a lot of pressure, and opening huge opportunities.
I realized that I had been – for a while already – on the edge. I had been tangoing around in the levels of drama and situation, and now I realized that it only takes one to D(i)SCO: me. Since that day, I’ve stepped over many edges, and continue to do so.
In today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world agile ways of working are becoming the only ways to succeed. Even if designed for self-development, I find myself thinking that the 4 Levels of Engagement could be a tool that provides businesses ad organizations with a structure to get to the true essence of what is going on as quickly as possible. The benefit of this model is a “fast-forward” to a widening awareness and realizing the underlying patterns and messages behind the visible situation. It cuts straight through the struggle and problem solving to the beauty of the experience and realization of a larger potential.
The power is taken back from the outside forces, to ourselves. First choosing how to be (as persons, teams, organizations, in relation to the other people or situations) and only after that deciding what to do (that supports the chosen way of being) enables collective, empowering experiences. Conversations become lighter and the next steps (decisions, actions) clearer and faster. Rather agile, I’d say.
Written by Aino Elina Muhonen, a Growthroom board member and an experienced organizational developer and coach who loves to help people express their full potential in life and work. Photo credits: Unsplash / Samuel Zeller
You may want to try out the D(i)SCO method yourself, by an extremely nice guidance from originator of the method Alan Seale here. Learn more about the TP approach in The Center of Transformational Presence.
To learn more about the power of transformational presence tools in practice (English or Finnish), contact the writer for a coaching or training exploration together.