One way or another, all coaching boils down to the rude pragmatics of ‘bodies in a room 1’. With the increasing professionalisation of coaching, and the resulting sophistication of coaching techniques, it is easy to overlook or to underplay this basic reality. Yet the soft animals of our bodies interact and communicate in subtle yet powerful ways that are often beyond our immediate awareness and conscious control. Our bodies hold, express, reflect and reveal an extraordinary amount of information.
I’ve had conversations recently with colleagues, clients and friends who have been re-examining the direction of their life and work… They’ve felt unfulfilled, frustrated, empty, and in touch with an inner deadness that is demanding to be brought to life. I’m no stranger to the experience, myself, of course – two years ago I had an idea about writing a children’s story about a dragon who loses his fire, and goes in search of it. In exploring this idea, I had to admit that I was that dragon! I think many of us reach a point where we feel inauthentic and unfulfilled, doing what we do.
I was supervising a group of coaches recently when I realised, to my dismay, that we did not share a common understanding of ‘dialogue’. To me, coaching at its best is deeply dialogic – yet so many introductions to coaching – like the GROW model, and conceptions of performance-coaching – are not at all dialogic; just because talking is involved, doesn’t make it dialogue – we could be having a conversation, discussion, debate, for example! I thought it was time to clarify what I mean, as a Gestaltist, by ‘dialogue’…
I’ve become interested in stuckness… It’s a phenomenon that I experience in myself from time to time – as a corrosive inability to make progress in a chosen direction of travel. Stuckness is also something that – as coaches and consultants – we often hear new clients describing when they come to work with us. Of course we hope to add value by providing professional support, yet how easy is it to ‘unstick’ someone?
‘Breakthrough’ may be a buzzword but it is also a vitally important concept in personal, organisational and social transformation. Yet what exactly do we mean when we say that someone ‘has had a breakthrough’, or that something is a ‘breakthrough approach’?
I’ve just had a fascinating conversation with a friend and colleague who has been exploring Maxie Maultsby's work on our strategies for engaging with our experience. He asked me the following – very challenging – questions:
The German word gestalt doesn’t translate well: but roughly speaking means a ‘whole configuration’. Gestalt can be seen, therefore, as an approach that preferences ‘seeing wholes’ and working with ‘wholeness’. Thus, if we look down on a village from the top of a mountain, we see the village as a whole, not the individual buildings and roads that we put together in order to see the village as a whole: we see it at once as a totality, as a gestalt.
Most self-help books will tell you that it takes 21 days to change a habit. This factoid is based on a 1960s study of amputees by plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, who reasoned that because it took only 21 days for amputees to adjust to the loss of a limb, other life-changes should only take as long… This looks like a very shaky assumption to me!
Change is only possible to the extent that we have support for that change.
This is probably not a popular message for those of us who pride ourselves on being mature, independent, self-directed, achievers, who have earned our autonomy. I’m saying that we can’t succeed in making a change to ourselves, or a club we belong to, or a team or organisation we lead, unless the amount of support is proportional to the amount of change we wish to make. Not enough support – we fail.