Coaching

I felt seething fury last week. I had avoided giving a colleague some difficult feedback about the impact working with him was having on me, and eventually he confronted me about the inevitable leakage of my irritation. I was not pleased with myself for avoiding giving timely feedback, nor was I best pleased with him for the public confrontation. While we ironed out our differences, the situation got me reflecting on how to have ‘courageous conversations’.

I learned some time ago that the best way to improve performance is to get people to relax and enjoy themselves. So picture me at the gym recently, facing the prospect of a fitness test to determine if I had made any gains since employing a personal trainer in December. I did not feel relaxed. I was not enjoying myself. No part of me believed in myself.

‘Mindfulness’ is the jaw-grinding word of the week, and mindless references to it in organisational work are driving me crazy! While one of its early Western exponents, Jon Kabat-Zinn, described it as ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally’, I’m concerned that its careless use in business is another way of getting us to focus on the task at hand and so meet our given performance goals.

How do you go about realising your potential?

Our dominant cultural assumptions about personal and organisational development are usually about reaching goals; striving with effort; solving problems; constantly achieving… We are all looking for something, and often what we do is focus on The Next Big Thing To Achieve, rather than stepping back and looking at the pattern of our searching and striving, where there is always yearning, longing, and potential exhaustion.

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’…