What a difference a single word makes. When we’re in conflict, our own egos and the level of hope (or hopelessness) we feel can become obstacles to finding resolution. Sometimes, a simple reframing of a key question can help us overcome these obstacles.
I was reminded of this while listening to a public radio interview of Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, who pointed out that “can” and “how can” are vastly different from one another. She said,
“When you ask yourself how do you do something, you’re bypassing your ego in some sense. You’re just out there examining, fiddling with things trying to find the solution. If you ask yourself can you do it, then all you can appeal to is the past.”
Think about the difference, for instance, between “Can you resolve this?” and “How can you resolve this?”
“Can you resolve this?” inquires about abilities, level of hope, capacities.
“How can you resolve this?” inquires about avenues to take, solutions, ideas. It neatly sidesteps ego and hopelessness and asks them, even for just a little while, to roll up their sleeves and explore.