Great Wolf Lodge, a family water park destination, has a list of rules posted before you enter the wet wonderland. In the middle of all these rules are big, red, bold words:
DO NOT PEE OR POOP IN THE POOL.
This statement is not–I repeat–not a positive presupposition. But it still makes me laugh.
Positive presuppositions are statements, questions and a way of thinking that suggest we trust others to have the right knowledge and/or the best intentions. DO NOT PEE OR POOP suggests that we might not know to keep our number ones and twos to ourselves or that we would intentionally pollute the pool. A positive presupposition could sound like, “Thank you for keeping your waste products to yourself.”
Positive presuppositions are subtle when it comes to coaching. It can be the difference between asking, “When did the students become less engaged?” and “At what point were there shifts in student engagement?” The first one suggests that the students weren’t engaged whereas the second one inquires about any shifts. Another example would be, “He didn’t finish his homework” and “He hasn’t finished his homework yet.” The word ‘yet’ being the subtle add-on that suggests an optimistic outcome.
While we can communicate positive presuppositions with what we say, there is also worthy internal work to do in this area. I recently heard a coach I work with say, “I’m focusing on positive presuppositions about why that meeting went the way it did.” Instead of assuming someone was trying to be difficult or hurtful, there are 99 other possibilities that could be just as true. When we focus on the positive possibilities, it shifts our energy. We can move from feeling angry, tired, sapped, embarrassed or anxious to feeling light, free and hopeful.
Here are examples of one way to see things as well as the positive presupposition way. I left two for you to fill in yourself. I find positive presuppositions take a lot of practice for me.