|||||||About the Author|
Kris Nicklas is a Trainer and Generalist on the Partner Care Team. Prior to joining Great Kids® in 2021, she worked as a Home Visitor with Healthy Families Baltimore where she used the Growing Great Kids® Curriculum. Kris lives in Maryland with her two daughters and enjoys spending her free time exploring the great outdoors!
Recently, my friend and I completed a much-anticipated hike along the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland. We’ve been hiking together for years. And to date, this was the most physically challenging and picturesque trail we’ve ever completed. It required more preparation than usual, and during the planning process, I realized this was about something more than just a hike. My friend reached out because she was going through some difficult life changes and needed to talk to someone.
In the past, these conversations often made me anxious – I would find myself thinking, “I don’t know what to say,” or offering suggestions that seemed to fall flat. Sometimes I would even feel frustrated because the solution seemed obvious, so I would avoid the interaction instead of engaging. But I started to handle these conversations differently when I learned how to use a Strengths-Based Approach in my interactions with others.
If you also experience these kinds of feelings when in similar situations, the following strategies and tools may help lead you to more supportive and productive conversations.
A Strengths-Based Approach promotes strategies we can use to help others grow by identifying and focusing on their strengths. It requires that we embrace the belief that every person has the capacity to facilitate their own change – which means you don’t have to give suggestions or advice. Instead, we can encourage critical thinking through solution-focused questions. When we shift away from asking questions like “Why?” and instead ask “How?” we can help guide a person to a more solution-focused mindset.
So, throughout our hike, I intentionally tried to practice this approach.
I listened more than I talked and looked for opportunities to point out my friend’s strengths, like knowing how to reach out to friends for support and not shying away from challenges.
When I found myself wanting to offer suggestions like “Why don’t you try this?” I reframed it to allow her the opportunity to think of a solution by saying, “What do you think you might try?” As we passed one mile marker after another, I could see her shoulders begin to lighten, her tone softened, and we ended the trail in a fit of laughter! I gave my friend the space to share without attempting to fix her problem, validated her feelings, and asked open-ended, solution-focused questions. By the end of our conversation, she was noticeably less stressed and even motivated to take steps toward improving her situation.
Of course, practicing a Strengths-Based Approach takes time and well…practice. And it’s okay if you don’t get it right. Remember, practice makes permanent! Meaning the more you practice, the easier and more natural it becomes. Making small changes to the way we communicate can create partnerships where a person feels heard, understood, and supported.
This practice can help empower others to have the confidence they need to overcome challenges by developing a solution-focused mindset.
A Strengths-Based Approach takes intentionality and practice, and one of the best ways to start is to find opportunities to nurture an optimistic attitude in ourselves.4 At Great Kids, we develop our curriculum and trainings using a Strengths-Based Approach. If you want to grow your skills and improve your communication with others, check out our new professional development training, ENGAGE, to learn more!