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The power of future-oriented conversations

We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future.

What do constructive journalism, positive psychology and employee engagement have in common? Future-oriented conversations. These kinds of conversations are led by a future-oriented line of questioning or future-focused feedback. They lead to better understanding and are proven to get the best results out of situations and individuals.

How do these future-oriented conversations look like? What kinds of questions dominate them?

What now?

I first got acquainted with the idea of the future-oriented question during an interview with Danish journalist Cathrine Gyldensted for my master’s thesis on the constructive news framing of the European migration. She added that “what now?” should be part of the journalist’s toolbox. It should be up there with the who, what, when, where and how questions we use when interviewing for their stories.

“What now? What kind of visions could we have for society in the situation? How can it be achieved? What steps should be taken? Will you do it? When will you do it? Those kinds of questions that drives the thinking and the answers to the future in a productive way,” she explained.

In this YouTube video, you will see how future-oriented questions led to a more insightful story and her discovery of constructive journalism.

Gyldensted coined the term “constructive journalism” while studying positive psychology for her master’s at the University of Pennsylvania. Constructive journalism uses the elements of positive psychology in storytelling to come up with stronger and more balanced reporting. She was the first Director of Constructive Journalism at the Windesheim University in Zwolle, The Netherlands.

What could you do that is not happening now?

In her coaching courses, Lisa Gates teaches the advantage of the future-focused feedback.

“In coaching for employee development, you want to give future-focused feedback. Typical performance measurements usually focus on what happened and provide constructive criticism about how things should have been done. In other words, it’s focused on the past,” she said in her Coaching and Developing Employees course.

Gates further argues that, “We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future. Research shows that when we highlight how people went wrong, it builds defensiveness, because it puts the spotlight on mistakes and shortcomings. But future-focused feedback sidesteps this personal critique in favor of teasing out what’s possible and what might be improved in the future. So ultimately, this feedback is more efficient because the ideas and solutions your employees generate on their own tend to be adopted with more commitment. It’s the kind of feedback that comes from leadership, and inspires leadership.”

An example of this kind of feedback is, “What could you do that is not happening now?“.

Screenshot from Lisa Gates’ online coaching course.

In other words

It’s not about what happened but what we learned from it and what we can do to fix it or change the result in the future. There are many things in life that we cannot control but we have the upper hand on how we react to it. And as the saying goes, “We cannot go back and start over but we can begin now and make a new ending.”

What future-oriented questions do you use? And for which situations do you use them? Keep in touch. I’d love to know!#

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