I first heard the question “How do you eat an elephant?” about two decades ago in my corporate life. “One bite at a time” seemed an uninspiring answer for an ambitious marketer looking out for the latest hot management theory. Little did I know, it would become one of my best tools as a Life Coach.
In NLP, we talk about communication filters. These are the ways we unconsciously filter our thinking and processing. They help us make sense of the world around us. One filter is ‘chunking up or chunking down.’
To ‘chunk down’ is to deconstruct a problem/question/challenge into smaller and smaller pieces until they become manageable. Alternatively, we ‘chunk up’ to get a bigger picture of the situation.
I find that ‘chunking down’ or ‘chunking up’ is valuable in any given moment of a coaching session.
Here’s a client example of ‘chunking down.’ 7-year-old Dan, a cricket player on the school team, refused to play in any game that was held outside his school gates.
Dan’s teacher told me he had such huge tantrums about these events that they would give up on him playing. There was a cricket game away the next day, and the school asked me to help.
After some talk and fun, I asked him about the cricket game. He said “I am not going. I don’t want to go and I will not go”. I brought him to the white board, while joking with him some more. I thought of some basic questions. I made a point of ensuring he could say “yes” to all the initial questions.
Me: Let me get this right. Dan, you know how to play cricket, don’t you?
Me: You enjoy it?
Then I took a marker, and deconstructed his next day. I made a basic picture of each step, in order, and boxed them independently (like in a cartoon).
Me: Your mum will drive you to school. Is this ok with you?
Dan: Yes, she always does.
Me: You play in the playground. Is this ok with you?
Dan: Yes, I like it.
Me: You attend lessons and do your work. Are you feeling ok now?
Dan: Yes, I do it every day.
Me: Now you prepare your bags, your friends are with you and you get on the bus. Is all ok with you?
Me: You get to the other school, you bowl and bat. You have a good time. Is this fine?
Dan: Yes, I am fine, I think we can win.
Me: The game is over. Everybody picks up their bags and gets ready to go on the bus.
Dan: It’s here. I don’t like it. I hate it. I am not going!
I continued with the day to ensure Dan completed and visualised a good and easy day (get on the bus, get back to school, see your mum). When I finished, he went back to the “picking up your bags” moment. He took an eraser and deleted everything with anger, saying “I am not going”.
By ‘chunking down’ we had identified the real moment that was creating the problem. It was not the cricket or the competition.
When I asked more questions, a clear reason for Dan’s fear emerged: “I am worried that I will get lost and they’ll leave without me. I would never see my mum again.”
Dan is a small kid for his age. I can understand how the bustle and noise of many kids would be overwhelming. He felt he could easily go unnoticed.
‘Chunking down’ helped us identify the real worry. This discovery then allowed us to co-create some simple solutions. We agreed that a teacher would be in charge of him directly after the game finished. We also agreed that he would need this teacher only five times. Then he would know he could do it on his own.
Dan loved that ‘away’ game and he is now enjoying his cricket and trips. So whenever you find yourself with an elephant of a problem, don’t panic. Just ‘chunk down’ and take it one bite at a time.
Additional tip: WHITE BOARDS: A GOOD TOOL
I often use white boards in coaching. Children detach from a situation by having distance between them and the problem on the board. They are also looking up, which means they use their visual thinking and turn off their internal inner dialogue. This helps them to be less emotional.
By Javier Orti