Too close to the problem to see the solution

Too close to the problem to see the solution.

Feel like you’re not properly valued at work? Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and get a neutral view of things

Khun Kai is an executive vice president in marketing and communications at a large Thai financial institution. She had been very successful at a foreign bank for a number of years, prior to moving to this organisation early last year.

Here, in the new working environment, she has not yet been as successful. That might be why her boss offered her this coaching assistance.

We had already had a few coaching sessions together. Today, she came to the meeting place looking a little down.

“Good morning Khun Kai, how are you today?” I started the conversation.

“I’m fine, thank you,” she replied.

“Are you sure? You don’t look fine to me. Anything wrong?” I pressed.

She was quiet for a while. I started seeing tears in her eyes, not long before she broke down, complaining about her boss, who she thought did not pay enough attention to her. As evidence, she described situations when her boss did not return her calls; did not give her enough time to meet, or to update the boss on progress of key projects; was rushing during meetings; and kept moving her appointments.

Additionally, she confirmed that her boss had just changed his behaviour recently. Before that she had a good time working with him.

“Was this just happening to you, or to other people too?” I probed, trying to get a better understanding of the situation.

“It would depend. With his people, he talked well. With me and a couple of others, he had changed.”

“Why was getting attention from the boss so important to you?” I asked.

“It impacted on my performance!”

“But you could still succeed without changing your boss’ behaviour, couldn’t you?”

“Well, apart from that, I did not feel I was valued. When I was working in my previous organisation, I had much better support. My thoughts were heard,” she said, sharing her frustration.

“Why was being valued so important?” I challenged her to come out with her real concern.

“It made me happy and fulfilled; I have to know I’m significant,” was the firm reply.

“Oh, okay. Then, how will you deal with this challenge?”

“I won’t do anything anymore, just ignore him. I want to make myself happy.”

“Were you happy at all?” I challenged her. She was silent.

“What were you using – reason or emotion – in dealing with this issue?” I moved on, and she was still silent.

Then I asked her to relax, take deep breaths, sit quietly for a few moments and let go of the feelings about the boss. Once she was emotionally ready, I discussed with her my experience about people’s behaviour by asking if she agreed that people’s behaviour, even when it was bad, often had good intentions. For example, if someone yelled at you, the good intention might be that s/he would like to see you do better next time. She agreed.

I therefore asked her to imagine moving her mind out of her body, going back to a situation in which she and her boss had a discussion she was unhappy about. In the imagined situation, she did not have to do anything but observe the conversation and behaviours of both herself and her boss – like watching a movie.

“Now, Khun Kai, tell me: If you put yourself in your boss’ shoes, why would your boss act so?”

“Well, a few things I thought of. First, he might be busy with other more urgent stuff. Second, I might have spoken too long, trying to explain too much detail. And third, the benefit of why he should give me his time might not have been clear enough,” she explained.

“Excellent Khun Kai, you were right on the spot! Now what do you plan to do?”

“I have to prepare myself before meeting him. Make my presentation shorter. Actually I know he was only interested in results, not how I got it done, but it was I who wanted to tell him all the details.”

“Great! But this would only be happening if he gave you his time. The problem is, how will you get his attention?” I challenged her a litter further.

“That’s easy – I would show him the benefits of attending to my issue. Tell him what he would get from listening to me, rather than what I would get from him. Actually, I have studied the FABE technique, which is about how to convince people but I did not use it!”

“Really? Interesting. Please tell me more about it, Khun Kai. I would love to learn from you too,” I enthusiastically encouraged her to share it.

“Sure, why not! FABE is an acronym standing for

F – Facts, Figures and Features … explaining what you are talking about;

A – Advantages … explaining why these facts, figures and features are better than those of other options;

B – Benefits … explaining what’s in it for the listeners; and

E – Evidence giving some specific examples to strengthen the advantages and benefits of the case.

“FABE is a technique for forming a convincing statement. In order to be successful, we need to focus more on Advantages and Benefits rather than Facts, Figures and Features,” she said, proudly presenting the concept.

“That’s fabulous. Now do you think these strategies would help you deal with your current problem effectively?”

“Yes, I believe so. I just realised that when I talked to my boss, I spent too much time talking about facts, figures and the background of the issue rather than mentioning the advantages and benefits. I am sure that if I present more of the benefits, he would love to hear what I have to say. This actually made me successful when I was working in my former job. I should have remembered it!” she said with conviction.

“Very good. I would be more than happy to provide any support should you need it. By the way, what is the key takeaway from our coaching session today, Khun Kai?”

“For me, what I learned today was that sometimes when we are too close to a problem, we can’t see the solution. Only if we take a few steps back from the problem and look at it neutrally, can we figure out how to deal with it. Like the old saying says, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Thank you for the great coaching moment!” she said, enthusiastically summarising her thoughts, which were totally different from how she looked at things about an hour before.

“My pleasure. Thank you for sharing the convincing technique with me, too,” I said to conclude the coaching session.

Apiwut Pimolsaengsuriya is executive director of Orchid Slingshot and a certified executive coach by the International Coach Federation (ICF). Write to him at


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