2.4 Clarifying the questions and issues facing you
If you have gone through all the information-gathering methods
described in the appendices, you are probably feeling pretty dizzy and confused
1 In fact, it is quite likely that you will have concentrated on one or two
methods, and that you will come back to the others later.
In any case, you are now at the point where you have quite a lot
of information, and a number of questions or issues are facing you, as shown in
Figure 9. Questions and issues
One of the problems here is that not only might you be suffering
from an overload - simply too many issues and questions to handle at once - but
some of these may be in conflict. That is, some could well be contradicting
others. Although there is no simple solution to this problem, there are one or
two things you can do to make it a bit more manageable.
Firstly, just make a simple list of your key questions and
issues, as you now identify them (that is, from whichever of the method(s) you
have used). It may be that this simple step will be enough in itself. Looking at
your list for a few minutes might be sufficient for one or two priority areas to
leap out of the page, as it were, so that you can then concentrate on doing
something about those.
However, it is of course quite likely that you will still be
finding a lot of confusion in your list of personal questions and issues. In
that case, it can be helpful to classify them according to the various roles you
adopt in life.
The roles you play
What do we mean by this? Well, each of us has a number of roles
to play. For example, somebody might take on roles such as
- departmental manager;
- chairman of a standing
- member of governing body or related professional
One role might be subdivided into a number of sub-roles. For
example, "departmental manager" might become
- person in charge of particular department;
member of senior management committee;
- friend to certain
We are facing a number of different life issues and questions
across most of our differing roles. So one way to clarify the possibly
bewildering array of such questions is to classify them according to these
roles. To do this, a format along the lines of figure 10 is helpful. In the
left-hand column, you list the main roles that you play in your life.
Figure 10. Roles and questions
You do not have to list all your roles, of course. You might
well want to restrict it to those that concern your job - although do not forget
the growing importance of recognising the link between job and non-job
development, and the need for balance here.
When you have listed your various roles, you can then note the
life questions and issues that face you in respect of each one, in the
right-hand column of the table.
Having done this, you should be in a clearer position to choose
certain areas and issues to work on. One important difficulty should be
mentioned, though. You might well find that the issues in two different roles
are more or less diametrically opposed. For example, in your job, you might be
being asked to spend more time at the office, or to go overseas on a course,
whilst at the same time your children are saying "please spend more time at
There is certainly no simple solution to this one! You will have
to make a difficult decision. However, there are some ways of analysing these
situations in a little more detail, which should help. These ways will now be
Identifying alternative courses of action
Now then, we are at the point shown in figure 11. The next step
is to explore some of these questions and issues.
Figure 11. Questions and issues
The purpose of all this, of course, is to decide on what you are
going to do. It is important to distinguish between general wishes (what you
would like to do), intentions (what you really are going to do), and first steps
(getting started). In order to "jump the gap" between these last two, you also
need resolutions - which make a detailed action plan of what you are going to
As already mentioned, you can either choose one particular
issue, or a number of related ones (including those that clash with each other),
or two or three quite separate ones. Do not forget, though, that you can always
come back later to look at some more, so it is probably a good idea at this
point not to take on too many at once.
On the other hand, at times you will not be able to sort out
your priorities until you have in fact examined several in detail. So it is
important to keep an eye on the overall picture, examining several, then
focussing on certain ones for priority attention.
motivations to act
plan of action
The basic questions are involved yet again here. So, for the
various issues you are considering, ask yourself
- what do I think about this?
- how do I feel
- what would I like to do about it?
- what am I prepared to do
- what am I not prepared to do about it?
It is convenient here to look at two types of issue. Examples of
the first type might include:
- how can I become a better listener?
- how can I
be more assertive?
- how can I improve my physical fitness?
In general, these - which we might term small-scope or
narrow-focus issues - tend to focus on one element of your development: of your
character, or your skills, or your health, and so on. They are concerned with
certain limited aspects of your development.
The second type, on the other hand, are much broader in scope.
These involve tackling questions such as:
- I want to set some life goals for the next five
- I am dissatisfied with my current job. Should I move to
another one, or try to improve things here?
- I have the opportunity to study overseas for a year. Should I
- I am wondering about leaving my current employer and starting
up my own business.
Clearly, these types of issue involve much more than just
certain specific aspects of your development. They may have a significant
influence on your whole life style, and they also affect other people as well.
We can look at the two types of issues separately.
What to do about narrow-focus issues
There are two main ways of dealing with these, as shown in
Figure 12. Narrow-focus issues
One way, then, is to carry out special self-development
techniques and activities, related to the issue or need that you have
identified. A number of these are described in chapters 3 to 8, which also give
some guidelines on which techniques are particularly suitable for certain types
However, the other extremely important approach is to use your
normal, everyday life experiences as opportunities for development. Since these
are happening anyway, let us make the most of them!
Sometimes this can be made easier by translating the issue into
For example, think about the example of a wish to be more
assertive. When? In what circumstances? With whom? Give some examples - when
could you practise this? Make it an intention: "I want to be able to tell my
boss that I disagree with him". Fine. Then your resolution is that the very next
time you disagree, you will tell him so. And when you do tell him, you have
taken your first step.
Or take another example. "I want to listen to my immediate
subordinate more. At present I ignore what he says." Fine. Then resolve to do it
- the very next time he comes to talk to you. And when he does - take your first
Of course, it is all very well to say "Fine - then do it".
Obviously it is not as easy as that 1 But this can show you the opportunities
that exist. Very probably, when the opportunity actually arrives, you will not
do as well as you would have liked. Very well - use that as part of the learning
experience. Turn it into a critical incident, and analyse it as already
described earlier in this chapter. Learn from the failure - or success.
What to do about broader-focus issues
These questions, of course, are somewhat different from the
narrow-focus ones. For example, there is no simple exercise or activity that
will tell you whether or not you should change your job. There are, though, a
number of things you can do to help you with these broader issues.
If you have not done it already, you will probably find that
going through the biography process (appendix 4) will be helpful. This
can clarify the main questions facing you, and can also give insights into your
main life-themes, which can play an important part in making an important life
With these bigger questions, you will almost certainly recognise
several alternative answers or solutions. For example, suppose you are thinking
about changing your job. Various alternatives could include:
- no; stay where I am and try to make things better
- yes; look for an internal transfer;
- yes; look for a job in
At this stage, it is useful to take each alternative in turn,
and examine it very carefully. First, note all the obvious advantages and
disadvantages, in terms of outcomes, ease or difficulty in carrying it out,
likelihood of success or failure. Since we are trying to prevent
self-development from being selfish, you should also look at each from the point
of view of the other people who are likely to be affected. What are the good and
bad points as far as they are concerned?
Then take each one in turn again. Imagine that it is now a time
in the future, after you carried out that particular choice. So, you have chosen
that one, and put it into action.
Now imagine to yourself, what is happening? Who are all the
people involved? What is going on? What am I doing? What are all the other
people doing? What am I thinking? How am I feeling? What am I wanting to do?
(All this in your imagination, in the future, as a result of your choice.)
What are the other people thinking? How are they feeling? What
are they wanting to do?
Put as much detail into this imagination as you possibly can.
Really try to feel, hear, smell, touch, as well as see what is happening.
Doing this imaginative exercise will help you to get a clearer
impression of the features of each choice. It breathes life into your list of
advantages and disadvantages, making them more meaningful, more real.
Having said that, a new complication might now emerge. It is
quite likely that you will still be faced with some conflicts amongst the
choices. For example, you might realise that choice A will lead to some people
being happy, others less so. Choice B affects different people. Choice C
requires approval or sanction by your employer. Which do you choose? Only you
can decide. In the end, you have to make the difficult choice. But...
- you do this after examining the alternatives
carefully; you have followed through the consequences for everybody involved,
and have taken these into account along with your own wishes; therefore you are
taking a morally responsible decision;
- this may help you to talk with those people; after all, your
imagination of their reactions might be wrong; in any case, if they are so
likely to be affected, do not they have the right to be consulted?
- having considered these things consciously, perhaps you will
be in a better position to "brief" people as to what you want to do; if it is
something that will upset them, can you now think of ways of telling them that
will minimise their