‘A dot means everything,’ said the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. A dot is not only the origin of the work of art, it also distils the essence of the subject and captures the quality of relationship of the artist to his or her work of art. A dot thus becomes an exquisitely expressive punctuation point in the creative process.
Because I approach coaching as a creative process, Hokusai’s statement has got me reflecting on what the ‘dots’ are in my conversations with clients. Coaching is fundamentally concerned with enabling change – and I believe that there are some moments in the coach/client encounter that matter more than others in catalysing a change process.
I once spent the best part of a year working with a CEO of a Sino-British company. He and his Director team were having trouble putting together a market penetration strategy to secure business in Europe. Whatever ideas were generated, it seemed impossible for him to decide on any way forward. Our coaching explored whether there was crisis of belief about growth in the team; what his part in the stuckness might be; what was happening within his team; how the larger and quite volatile business context might be stifling entrepreneurial spirit; and many other angles on the problem. One day, I asked – quite casually – if he thought he had the blessing of his Chinese partner to expand into Europe? He reddened and went quiet for some time before making a few notes. I held my breath, waiting for him to re-engage, and the session continued as normal... Yet when I returned 6 weeks later for our next appointment, I learned that he had booked a flight to China directly after our session and had used my somewhat poetic language with his business partner – asking for his ‘blessing’ on the European business plan. The blessing was given and things flowed again. It was as if this one word had unblocked something for him and in the business, and mattered more than the many other explorations we had over the preceding months.
Talking to coach colleagues, I know that we all have the experience of something profound and transformational happening occasionally in our client dialogues. The writer Daniel Stern calls them ‘Now moments’, when our contact with clients feels heightened somehow and the moment seems pivotal, and pregnant with possibilities.
I have paid attention to these ‘dots’ in my client conversations over the years. I have discovered that it is possible to create the conditions when such ‘moments that matter’ are more likely to occur. Three particular points of focus for coaches seem to prepare the ground for more transformational conversations: how we use aspect of the physical environment we work in more creatively (rather than simply discuss issues); how we attend to our own and our client’s embodied experience (rather than stay in our heads); and how we use different registers of language that evoke the fullness of our humanity (rather than stay with corporate-speak). Like Hokusai and his painting, these ‘dots’ in our coaching conversations are everything! Let’s pay more attention to them!