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Coaching to the Soul

December 14, 2018

This week, while Alison Whitmire takes time away from her blog, we welcome guest blogger Terrie Lupberger, MCC.

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We live in a fast-paced, increasingly complex world. We have immediate, 24/7 access to events as they unfold around the globe. Adding to the confusion, a multitude of competing opinions about what really did happen, why they happened, what they mean, and what should be done about them.  We feel overwhelmed with uncertainty and fear.

In response we, as a collective, have become short-sighted. We look to sound bites to help us navigate complexity. We put band aids on our problems. We want quick fixes. We look to the formulaic and familiar for solutions. We overly rely on the so-called experts, or at least those with the loudest opinions. We live in a mood of impatience. We want answers NOW.

End of an Era

But the view of many contemporary philosophers and great thinkers is that we human beings are experiencing the end of an era – philosophically, ecologically, politically, psychologically, cosmologically, scientifically, etc. They conclude that we are witnessing a time on the planet when there are no simple problems left to address, and that our worldviews, and ways of thinking about them, are outdated and inadequate for the task.

To more successfully navigate the world we find ourselves in requires the ability to be okay with not knowing, with taking action with no guarantee of success. It requires us to be comfortable with chaos and uncertainty; to hold paradox; to be able to, metaphorically, walk across the bridge even as it’s being built.

It requires us to “be with” what is happening in the moment, while simultaneously holding the vision of a different future. It requires us to manage our own doubts and fears, and not project them on to those we work with or lead. It requires the ability to be equipped, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually to face the complex issues of our times. It requires us to develop the ability to self-author our lives instead of being overly dependent on experts’ rules and values.

Quoting author Ralph Peters, “The great paradox of the 21st century is that, in this age of powerful technology, the biggest problems we face internationally are problems of the human soul.”

Perhaps this is one of the major reasons coaching emerged – to address the challenges that the human soul is encountering when all of our traditional knowing and understanding of the world is insufficient to navigate its complexity and volatility.

This briefly sums up the context in which we coaches also find ourselves in, as well. We’re swimming in the same turbulent waters, and are subject to our own blind spots, fears, shortsightedness, and uncertainties, threatening our opportunities to make an impact.

What We Change

Helping people expand their perspectives, move beyond their limiting beliefs, and grow their awareness for the sake of outcomes more aligned with what they care about is what we coaches do.

And, after 20+ years in this profession in various roles, my conclusion is that we are at risk of wasting a tremendous amount of effort, time and money. We may be helping others create change that isn’t getting to the real issues, or developing the abilities needed, to face the world in which we find ourselves.

After 20+ years of study, research and practice in what I call ‘the change business,’ I still see change agents doing much of the same old thing – wrapped in new models and words – and leaving a lot of potential impact and change on the proverbial table.

I see us overly rely on, and overly prescribe, information and theories. I see us rush to the actions – the “doing” – while skimping or skipping over the exploration of our clients’ inner worlds – their beliefs, assumptions, emotions, level of awareness, and worldviews that are driving ineffective thinking and behaviors, including what they say they want.

It isn’t for lack of great intentions. Most of the coaches I know care deeply about their clients and making a positive difference. However, we are in danger of limiting the impact we care deeply about making because we, ourselves, have our own blindnesses, limiting beliefs and lack of development and awareness as human beings.  We are, after all, products of the same systems as our clients are.

Old Beliefs

Going as far back in history as the Greek philosopher Socrates, the western world (especially but not exclusively), has held the belief that there’s an objective world out there that is understandable through logic and reason. We have held the belief that human beings are fundamentally rational, reason-able beings who, by gathering as much information as they can about that objective world, can use it to understand and navigate in it.

We are living in a collective worldview that believes that the world can be perceived transparently and objectively; that through rational, logical analysis we can all see the same world and problem-solve the issues presented. We largely believe that more knowledge is the missing link to success, and that once we have the knowledge, we’ll be able to take new actions toward our goals.

This is a belief that has been running in the background of our collective thinking for a long time. It’s like an old version of a computer operating system that is limiting what’s possible and is in desperate need of an upgrade. It’s not that objectivity and rationalism are bad. Indeed, they have contributed to great advances in science, medicine, construction, technology, and many other fields.

But our over-reliance on the old computer operating system and our inattention to the human being – the soul that is operating the system – is where the next edges of our profession lie.

Our coaching must consider and reflect the deeper and broader contexts in which we find ourselves. It must help our clients embody deep awareness that includes, and transcends, our clinginess to rationality, the known and the observable.

We, as coaches, need to move beyond overly simplistic models of what it means to be a human being at this time in the world. We need to challenge ourselves to work with the human being – their consciousness, their way of being, their energies, their states, their stages of development, their worldviews and embedded / embodied beliefs. In short, all the forces unseen and less knowable, objectively and rationally, that might be shaping and impacting how they navigate their world.

This is the territory ripe for disruption in our work and in our profession.

Developing Two Capacities

This learning and development edge we are called to walk is a precarious one. There is no roadmap, the way is not clearly marked. We are entering the territory of the human being. It will require our own developed capacity to walk in the not-knowing – to experiment – to suspend our own beliefs that have gotten us to this point, but might likely be in the way of our next evolutionary leap.

In short, to have the impact that we all believe that coaching is capable of, we will need to develop two important capacities.

First, we will need to move determinedly beyond our own comfort zones of what we think we know and how we come to know.

For example, if our beliefs create our reality as many scientists and sages say, then what beliefs do you have that might be in your way? If everything is energy, as scientists and sages say, then how do you work with your own and your clients’ energy fields to better support them?

If everything is in relationship to everything else, as scientists and sages also say, then how do we think about and alter our way of relating for the sake of better outcomes for all? Where are we limited in our own level or stage of awareness / consciousness? These are but a few questions we need to wrestle with, or better said, to delight in, to move beyond our own comfort zones.

Secondly, we will need to welcome and embrace paradox.

As a coach, your ability to hold paradox – to simultaneously hold opposing beliefs or tensions – is one of your most powerful abilities and gifts. If you don’t have this ability, you won’t  notice them when they are presented. You’ll insist on your client choosing between their opposing truths instead of helping them learn from them; you will push them for clarity and certainty way too soon.

Your discomfort will become their discomfort. As Niels Bohr, Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner for physics, so eloquently said, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”

The big issues we are facing in our organizations, in our businesses, communities, our world and in our own personal lives require more than new information or a better change model.

We are dealing with something no less complex and profound as the human soul.

Changing the Whole Self

The kind of change we want to aim for as coaches is the kind that requires a change to the whole self, not a piece of it. To the whole actor who is taking the actions. To the whole inhabitant of the awareness or consciousness that is trying to navigate this world.

To be successful, we need to move beyond our own fears and proven formulas of success. We need to stop playing at the surface, move beyond the transactional and enter the uncharted and real territories of human consciousness, soul, spirit – whatever word chooses you.

It’s time for we of the coaching profession to take the road less traveled (to quote an oldie but goodie).

That road less taken is where evolutionary leaps can happen for our clients and for ourselves.

Will you – with the rest of us – take that road less traveled?

Join the conversation.

 

ABOUT  OUR GUEST BLOGGER, TERRIE LUPBERGER: A Master Certified Coach and former CEO of Newfield, Terrie works at the intersections of leadership and coaching to elicit her clients’ greatest potentials. Together with Pamela Richarde, MCC, she also trains advanced coaches to challenge the myths, assumptions and beliefs that we coach and live by. The next online program begins in March 2019. For more information visit www.coachingreimagined.com,  Contact Terrie here..

We hope you enjoyed hearing from our guest blogger. We’re grateful to Terrie for sharing her invaluable insights! Thanks, Terrie!

 

If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to be considered as a guest blogger, please email us. While we might not be able to accommodate all guest blogs, we certainly entertain all ideas!

 

– Alison

 

Alison Whitmire

President | Learning in Action

 

P.S. Receive our blogs in your inboxSubscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.

 

P.P.S.As a coach, you know there’s value in your coachees’ stories. But do you realize how transformative those stories could be with your specialized guidance? Find out at our January podinar. Our guest is executive coach, speaker, author, and founder of the field of Narrative Coaching, Dr. David Drake. Interactive webinar Jan. 25, 11:00-12:00 PT. Register – free!

Not an EQ Profile practitioner?

Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

Five of the Most Useful Narrative Coach Tools, Concepts, Frameworks

October 4, 2018

Who doesn’t love a simple, yet powerful, coaching tool?!

I’m always looking for fresh approaches and elegant frameworks for helping my coachees navigate their personal journey. And the WBEC’s Narrative Coach (NC) program with Dr. David Drake provided a virtual treasure trove of tools, conceptual constructs, and frameworks for working with coachees and their stories in a unique and insightful way. I’ve seen an enormous number of tools in my 15 years of coaching, and the one’s I’ll share here, I’ve found to be easy to understand, extraordinarily clarifying and simple to implement.

This is the third and final blog post related to my reflection on the NC Program. In Part 1, I shared the insights I gained about myself as a coach while experiencing the program. In Part 2, I shared the assumptions about coaching that have shifted for me. Here I’ll share the five pieces of content from the program that I found most valuable, and why I believe they are so useful.

Note: 100% of this content was created by Dr. David Drake and should you choose to share this with clients or create your own version (as we coaches love to do), please ensure you give proper credit to Dr. David Drake and Narrative Coaching. Also, I did my best to distill the essence of the tool without taking too many liberties or short cuts. And for the exact words, questions and context, buy his book and/or take the course.

You’ll discover that all of these simple tools and approaches meet the coachee where they are and focus on their story as a generative aspect of the coaching. Many of these tools may feel familiar, and you’ll notice an emphasis on the coachee’s present moment experience, the stories they tell and the identity of the coachee in their stories.

 

Rewinding Your Story

 

This is my fave of all of the tools because it links so beautifully with the EQ Profile. When we are preparing a coachee for the session in which we’ll debrief their EQ Profile results, we ask them to recall and bring to the session 2-3 specific stories of interpersonal conflicts. We use the narrative in the coachee’s stories to map to the patterns revealed in their EQ Profile. The EQ Profile reveals patterns of thinking, feeling, wanting, sensing and focusing that are vestiges of adaptive strategies spawned by our lifetime of relationships and experiences.

These default patterns become a common denominator of many of our interpersonal conflicts until we become aware of them, and create new, more conscious ways of being and behaving.

This simple, yet powerful tool supports the coachee in reflecting on the stories they tell about interpersonal conflicts and the patterns which may be inherent within them. Further, it facilitates the development of a new, more intentional pattern that supports who and how the coachee wants to be.

Here’s a simplified version of the tool and how we might use it with ourself or our coachees:

 

Reflect on a conversation or situation you find challenging:

 

1)      What did you observe? (Describe your experience as a reporter would.)

2)      What were you telling yourself at the time? (What was your internal narrative or story?)

3)      What does this say about how you see yourself? (How does it support your identity?)

4)      What did you do as a result? (How did you behave?)

5)      What happened in the end? (What was the outcome?)

 

Rewind the story to achieve a different outcome:

 

1)      What would you like to have had happen in the end? (What outcome would you wish for?)

2)      What could you have done differently as a result? (How could you have behaved differently to create your desired outcome?)

3)      What would need to shift in how you see yourself to achieve a different outcome? (What would your identity need to be to behave in alignment with what you want?)

4)      What could you tell yourself next time this happens? (What is the new story you could tell yourself that would support your identity and desired outcome?)

5)      What would you observe if ‘this’ were the case?  (What would your new experience be?)

 

I hear an echo of the Ladder of Inference in the first half, to be sure. And the second half is a kind of walking back down the Ladder. And adding the question about identity amps up the insight that’s available here. It takes this set of questions from simply an examination of the stories we make up to who we are that we make up these stories.

The second half starts with classic Covey, beginning with the end in mind (but how often do we actually do that in the middle of an interpersonal conflict?). And this begins the intentional process of re-patterning our seeing, thinking, being and doing to align with what we want.

Circling the Tree

 

One of the big differences I’m noticing about Narrative Coaching and how I’ve learned to coach is the bias toward examining the coachee’s present moment experience. (Of course, that’s an aspect of most all coaching, and my sense is that Narrative Coaching gives it more weight and returns to it more frequently).

Circling the Tree is an example of a tool that moves the coachee forward simply by staying with, and exploring, their present moment experience. Here’s a simplified version:

 

Circle One

1)      What happened?  (Just give the facts.)

2)      What do you think about it? (What’s your narrative of what happened?)

3)      How do you feel about it? (Notice and name the feelings you have about what happened.)

4)      What is important about it to you? (Talk about your values.)

5)      How has it affected you? (Share the impact on you and what that means for you.)

 

Circle Two

1)      What is true and important for you now?

2)      What is your motivation to do it differently?

3)      How will you remember this new story?

4)      What else do you need to get started?

5)      How will you know you have been successful?


Notice how all of the questions in Circle One are about the coachee’s present experience (about a past experience). There’s nothing about what the coachee wants to be different or where they want to go or what they want to create – all aspects that are often at the front of so many coaching models.

Notice how Circle Two stays with what’s present for the coachee to organically generate what new wants to emerge.

While I love this tool, a question is missing for me in Circle Two between 2 and 3. I think I would add: “What would be a new story that would support what you want for yourself?”

Circling the Tree is actually a lot like the Rewind Tool. Both give our coachees a way to examine their internal narrative relative to what they want for themselves. And the Circling the Tree stays more with what’s present for the coachee now.

 

Inquiry Cards

 

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this NC game of ‘serious play.’

1)      Bring a stack of 7-10 index cards to a coaching session.

2)      Invite your coachee to talk about her issue or question.

3)      As she does, write the words or phrases that carry the most weight or energy on to the index cards.

4)      Give the cards to the coachee and invite her to place the cards in the order represented by the story.

5)      Then, invite the coachee to move the cards to a new configuration and notice what comes up.

6)      Invite the coachee to continue to experiment until the resolution becomes clear.

7)      Invite the coachee to imagine what it would be like and what it would take to live from this place.

8)      Invite the coachee to talk about the implications of the outcome and anchor it as needed.

 

I can’t wait to try this. Sounds like fun.

 

Vectors of Change: BEAM

 

This is probably the first tool I started using almost as soon as I learned of it. It feels simpler and more inclusive than many other models of change I’ve worked with. Again, this is a simplified version:

As your coachee presents a challenge they are having, work with them to identify what they want and articulate their old story about the challenge. Then work with them to create a new story that surmounts the challenge.

 

1)      What is their Aspiration – what they are wanting ultimately (What would make them proud?)

 

What is the Coachee’s Old Story – Rooted in their Mindset, Behavior and Environment related to the challenge

 

2)      What is their current Mindset  – what do they think, feel, believe about themselves, others, the situation

3)      What is their current Behavior – what are they doing or not doing that is contributing to the challenge

4)      What is their Environment – what systems, structures, people, processes are contributing to the challenge

 

What can be the Coachee’s New Story – Aligned with their Aspiration

 

5)      What Mindset aligns with the Aspiration – what do they believe about the situation that feels both true and aligned with their aspiration

6)      What Behavior aligns with the Aspiration – what might they do that aligns with their Mindset and Aspiration

7)      What Environment aligns with the Aspiration – what systems, structures, people, processes will support the coachee’s Aspiration

 

I’ve seen a number of similar models and this Vectors of Change model feels more complete and integrated than any I’ve seen. And it’s so simple.

 

Five Perspectives

 

This simple tool is useful when a coachee is stuck and unable to see their situation in a new way. It allows them to try on someone or something else’s perspective of their situation. I often suggest “characters” from my coachee’s stories to offer their perspective. This tool goes something like this:

 

1)      Listen attentively when your coachee shares a challenging situation. Explore the coachee’s thinking, feeling, wanting and believing about themselves, others and the situation.

2)      Ask your coachee, “What is another perspective you could take?”  Explore what that perspective enables them to see, feel, think, believe.

3)      Continue asking “What is another perspective you could take?” Don’t be afraid to be creative here.

4)      Unpack each perspective by asking questions like:

  1.       Why this way of seeing things?
  2.       How does seeing it this way impact you?
  3.       How else could you see it?
  4.       What do you gain from seeing it this way?
  5.       What keeps you from considering this possibility?
  6.        What do you lose by seeing it this way?
  7.       What might you gain if you did?

 

I integrated a version of this into my work pretty quick. Here’s a brief example of how I’ve used this:

 

My coachee was expressing doubt that she was the best person to be running her company. As we explored her situation more deeply, she talked about her husband, her family and God. When she felt complete with her story, I asked:

“What would your husband say to your question about whether or not you’re the best person to be running your company?”

She said that he believes in her and her ability to run the company completely. I went on to ask:

“What would your family say?”

She reported that they felt much like her husband. And then I asked her:

“What would God say?”

and she began to cry.

The bottom line is that simple questions about the perspectives of people and entities important to her helped her fill in what was missing in her own perspective so that she could see her situation and herself more clearly.

I hope you find these tools as useful as I have. I’d love to hear what additional questions or comments you have. And if any of this needs more context, let me know. I’ll do what I can to provide it.

 

Do you have favorite tools you love? If so, let me know. If I get enough interest, I’ll do another blog on favorite tools.   

Join the conversation.

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action

 

P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.

 

P.P.S. Do you struggle to understand your coachees sometimes? Do they struggle to express themselves in ways you both understand? The answers are all in their languaging. And there’s a course for that. 🙂 Join us for our virtual video course, Insight Mapping. Learn how to listen for the clues that are right in front of you. (And no, neither you nor your coachees need to know anything about the EQ Profile – although this course will enlighten those who use it, too!)  Click here for details and to register.

 

Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

What Learning about My Coachees’ Narratives Taught Me about My Own – Part 2

September 20, 2018

What are you sure you know about coaching? I thought I knew a lot about coaching after 15 years and over 5,000 hours of experience. And in the past year or so, I’ve realized that a lot of what I thought I knew, my assumptions, were horse S#$%.

In my last blog post, I shared Part 1 of a reflection assignment due as part of the WBECS Narrative Coach (NC) Program with Dr. David Drake. In this Part 2, I share how what I thought I knew about coaching has been turned on its head by my experience with Narrative Coaching.

Five Assumptions about Coaching That Have Shifted For Me

All of my coach training prior to the NC Program has been in a largely co-active approach to coaching, firmly grounded in ICF core competencies. And while Narrative Coaching certainly doesn’t throw the ICF competencies out the window, it takes a very different approach to coaching than what I’ve learned in the past.

What I’ve learned about coaching that I’ve had to unlearn (or assumptions I no longer make) include:

  • Coaching starts with a contract/agreement. Early on in my coach training, I learned that the first thing to do as a coach is figure out the contract or what it is the coachee wants. The problem is, in my experience anyway, the coachee almost never knows what they truly want until it’s uncovered by the coaching. And when I’ve focused early in the relationship or early in the coaching session on getting to what the coachee wants, I’ve ended up chasing a red-herring, spending time at the surface and/or on the wrong thing.  I’ve learned that what the coachee says they want is only one aspect (and maybe a small one) of their larger, deeper desire, which is only ultimately discovered through the work.

Even in the Advanced Coaching Program I took, we spent a great deal of time and energy around securing the coaching session agreement by checking the boxes of Topic, Desired Outcome, Meaningful Underlying Issue and Success Measure. And I bought into that at the time, and to an extent, I still do. Only now it feels more like an artificial structure placed on an organic process. (More on that below).

  • Coachees will do what they say if we’ve designed the actions right. Maybe your coachees are different, but mine almost never do what they say they are going to do after the session. While this didn’t take me long to figure out, I assumed I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t designing the action specifically enough or ensuring the client had enough support or addressing enough of their obstacles or holding them accountable enough or making the actions S.M.A.R.T. enough. Well, I now believe I was doing something wrong, I was just wrong about what it was.  😊

Now, instead of designing actions for the coachee to take after the session, we do it in the coaching session (as much as possible). (If you read Part 1, you know that this is a cornerstone of Narrative Coaching). Early on in my coaching, I did a lot of role play with coachees, but it was discouraged by my mentor coaches (not clear now why), so I stopped. Now, I’m doing a lot more acting out, role play, experimentation during my coaching sessions so that my coachees can repeat/replay outside the session what they are experiencing and learning inside the session. (Here’s an example of something I tried recently.)


  • The coach provides the structure and the process. The coachee provides the content. To an extent, I still believe this – and now I see it differently. I used to feel responsible for figuring out the most robust and efficient series of questions that would bring the coachees the insights, clarity and resolution they were seeking, based upon what they said they wanted. Now, that feels to me like an artificial construct placed on a natural process.

These days, I see coaching as the facilitation of an innately organic process. I believe that our coachees are all almost always, consciously or unconsciously, working to resolve what they bring to coaching (that’s what brings them to coaching). And my role isn’t to lead them down the path of questions that will ultimately get them to their answer.  My role is to be present with them, see them, explore with them where they find themselves and then remain alert for the indications of where, why and how they are wanting to move from where they are to a new state of being.

  • Better questions make for better coaching. While I believe this is true to an extent, I’m no longer so focused on how to figure out the right, best questions. Because when I focus on figuring out the questions, I’m in my head and not with my coachee. I’m not present. I now believe that it is greater presence that makes for better coaching. The more present, the more in the moment, I can be with my coachee, the more I can attend to, encourage and facilitate the coachee’s own organic progress.
  • Coaching is a dance with the coachee…. and the coach leads. No one ever told me this. It’s just what I “learned,” especially in my early years, through coach training osmosis. In recent years, I’ve observed that the traditional co-active approach to coaching is placing greater emphasis on partnering with the coachee. That feels like a welcome and significant shift from what I first “learned.”

That said, my understanding from those coach trainings has been that even though we want to partner with the coachee (just like in a dance), the coach is still supposed to lead. And the way the coach leads is through their questions. And where the coach leads is where the coachee says they want to go. But if the coachee doesn’t truly know where they want to go…… where are we leading them?

In my prior coach trainings, as if to emphasize the importance of partnering with the coachee, the coach trainers would recommend frequently checking in with the coachee to determine if the coaching is on track and/or where they want the coaching to go. That made sense to me at the time.

But here’s the deal: In my experience, not only do my coachees not consciously know what they want, they are often resistant to directly confronting the challenge ahead of them. And if I ask them where they want to go, they will often avoid exactly where their organic process is taking them.   

So what’s the answer?  If we are not leading and we are not partnering, what the heck are we doing?

For that, you’ll have to wait for Part 3 (and hopefully in the next week, I’ll figure it out).  🙂

Join the conversation.

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action

 

P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.

 

P.P.S. Are there more blank spaces on your coaching calendar than you’d like? Join Chip Carter, Senior Advisor at the Institute of Coaching, and Alison Whitmire, president of Learning in Action, for September’s interactive webinar of discussion and Q&A around your coaching capacity and how you can fill your calendar in a number of ways, including coaching for organizations who need you!  Register here – FREE.    

 

Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

What Learning about My Coachees’ Narratives Taught Me about My Own – Part 1

September 13, 2018

Last year, I registered for WBECS’ Narrative Coach Program with Dr. David Drake. I had been hearing about David and Narrative Coaching and was curious about how we might apply his approach to help coachees make meaning of their EQ Profile results.

For the uninitiated: The EQ Profile provides a snapshot of one’s internal experience under stress in relationship. It reveals the patterns of thinking, feeling, and wanting that are triggered within us during interpersonal conflict. And because we often aren’t fully aware of our internal experience, it can sometimes be challenging to relate to our EQ Profile results.

After debriefing EQ Profile results with hundreds of coachees, I’ve learned that we are all, always narrating our internal experience (whether we are aware of it or not).   And one of the best ways of helping a coachee see the aspects of their internal experience that are hidden to them is to ask them to tell a story about a specific interpersonal conflict.

I’ve found that as I listen deeply to a coachee’s story, I can hear the dimensions of their EQ Profile in their language. (Which is what our Master Class: Insight Mapping course is all about.) Because this is now second nature to me, I was curious what more I could learn about a coachee and their story through Narrative Coaching. And learn more I did.

Narrative Coach Reflection Assignment

I’m now moving from the Enhanced Narrative Coach program to the Certification program, and one of the first assignments is as follows:

“Write a letter to a friend who coaches about what you learned in the Narrative Coach program, in which you share:

  • Five important insights you gained about yourself as a coach
  • Five important assumptions about coaching that shifted for you
  • Five important pieces of content that made a difference for you
  • Five important ways in which you are a better coach now
  • Five important growth edges for you in taking this work forward
  • How you would describe narrative coaching and the impact it has”

Yeah.

This gives you a pretty good sense of what the first seven months of the Narrative Coaching (NC) Program were like.  Exhaustive and exhausting. And incredibly rich, brilliant and challenging.

While I entered the NC Program to learn more about how we could help coachee’s make meaning of their EQ Profile results, what I came away with was a dramatically different view of coaching overall.   

In Narrative Coaching, I’ve found a much more organic, natural approach to working with coachees that feels less formulaic than what I’d been taught previously.

I’d like to share with you what I learned from the NC program, so you are now my “friend who coaches”.  😊 And because I want to stay friends, I’m not going to cover all of the bulleted items above.  And I’ll cover several of them over the course of this multi-part post.  I hope you find it useful.

Five Insights I Gained About Myself as a Coach

The NC program began at a particularly challenging time for me. A month or so into the program, my father passed away. And while my dad’s passing was incredibly hard, the aftermath was even harder. (Perhaps one day, when I have some perspective on it, I’ll write a blog post about it.)  

The birth of my understanding of Narrative Coaching came at the time of the death of not only my father, but also a part of my identity. (And I’m still wrestling with that.)

So all of that is context for what I learned about myself, as a coach, as a human, over the duration of the NC Program. Also, it had been a while since I’d stepped back and observed myself as a coach, so that is reflected here, as well.

The insights I gained about myself as a coach during the NC program include:

  • I am who I say to myself I am. And that’s true about myself as a coach and in every other aspect of my life. If I say to myself that I’m not enough as a coach, that I’m not creating enough value for clients, that I can never be worth what they pay me, then that will be true for me. And I will embody that identity. I will stay small. And safe. And fortunately, the opposite is also true. If I say to myself, “I am enough and everything I need lies in the space created by my client and me,” then that will be true. And it opens up more possibilities for both of us.
  • Forming a secure attachment with my clients is my first priority as a coach. When I’m able to form a secure attachment with a client, our relationship becomes the safe haven in which they show up as themselves and are seen and accepted. Our relationship creates the secure base from which they safely explore new territory. And our work can help them create new mental models that support their self-development. And while we at Learning in Action have been talking about attachment theory for more than a decade as it relates to the EQ Profile, only through the NC program have I been able to see how clearly the concept of secure attachment applies to my coaching.
  • Empathy, along with objectivity, will serve my client best. When my client is distressed, I can feel it so palpably that I can lose my boundary and my objectivity. Frankly, when I’m not conscious of it, I can lose my full ability to self-regulate. And then, I’m not much good to my client. And when I can empathize to the point of attuning to my client, while maintaining my boundary and objectivity and ability to self-regulate, my client can feel felt and seen and held in that space in a way that is generative for them. (Says easy, does hard. Still a work in progress for me.)
  • My curiosity will help my clients more than my knowing. I generally consider myself to be more curious than assumptive as a coach. However, I’ve been realizing how readily I assume I know what my client means by what they say. Since NC, I’ve been paying much closer attention to the language my clients are using and how they are using it. In particular, I’ve begun playing much more with the languages and metaphors my clients use, helping them to tease out their meaning and exploring their potential as a vehicle for experimentation and solution creation. (If you’re curious about an example of this, you can read about it here.) 
  • I can bring lightness to my coaching through play. I tend to be a fairly serious sort. And pretty much all of my clients want to have more fun.. (Me, too!) And I’ve been challenged to figure out how to do that and “get the work done!” Narrative Coaching encourages what David calls “serious play,”  He describes “serious play” as “both an attitude and an activity” which allows coachees to experiment, play, make mistakes, start over, engage all aspects of themselves, and try on something new – all in a safe, encouraging environment. It worked. I experimented with some “serious play” in the example of exploration of the metaphor mentioned above. Midway through, my client exclaimed, “Now, this is fun!”


Having a client feel like our work is fun is its own reward. Because when my clients are having fun, they are experiencing something different, something new, and they are more likely to see something different and new about their situation and themselves.

I hope that my reflections about me encourage you to reflect on you. Because what I get about you, my partners and colleagues in this noble work we do, is that you, like me, want to be better, do better, learn more, love more, be more for your coachees. And that can only be good for us, our coachees, and the ripple effects on the world.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week on Reflections on Narrative Coaching. Until then, have fun!

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action

 

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Emotional Thinness: When Relational Connective Tissue Needs a Workout

July 19, 2018

My heart ached as I sat across from Tom, my stony-faced CEO client, as he explained his and his company’s situation: “I don’t know what’s wrong. It just seems like any little issue can get out of hand. My employees are quitting for what seem to me like minor issues. And I don’t know what’s wrong with my buddy, Bill. He’s not even talking to me anymore.”

I had an idea of what was wrong and there wasn’t a quick fix.

As part of our work together, Bill had taken the EQ Profile (an instrument that reveals our internal experience when challenged or under stress). I had coached Bill for almost a year and it was clear (both from our work together and his recent EQ Profile results) that he had limited access to his own emotions, a nearly empty joy bucket, little to no ability to empathize, and was easily triggered.

He suffered from what I call “emotional thinness.”

What is Emotional Thinness (ET)?

Emotional thinness (ET)? (Never heard of it? I made it up. :)) You’ve met people ailing from ET and perhaps labeled it something else. It’s a difficulty in producing relational connective tissue.

Just as connective tissues like ligaments and tendons provide structure and support for our bodies, authentic and sensitive conversations, empathetic compassion and meaningful collaboration make up the relational connective tissues that provide support and structure for our relationships. ET sufferers don’t easily produce these things.

When you engage someone with ET, you’ll notice, consciously or subconsciously, a lack of warmth from him or her. It’s particularly noticeable in a group of people, say, at a party. You may steer clear of them because they may “flatten” your mood. That’s not to say someone with ET walks around mean or cold or angry or negative. In fact, they may be smiling and happy. And your interaction with them may have a distant, transactional or distracted quality to it and your conversation may be shallow and without meaning.

ET is somewhat rare among CEOs because relationships are so important for developing a stable and productive work force and having successful customer relationships. And sometimes simple brute force, an intense work ethic or dynamic energy can overcome the fairly significant drawback of emotional thinness.

What to Do?

The causes of ET are too varied and complex to describe here. It’s fair to say that ET sufferers probably didn’t have warm, secure, attuned relationships with their primary caregivers. That’s not to say they were abused or neglected. Just that they didn’t experience that relational connective tissue they needed in order to know how to produce it.

To overcome ET, what do you do? Connecting with others starts with connecting with yourself. The right coach or a therapist can help you better understand yourself. Also, EQ assessments like Learning in Action’s EQ Profile can help you see the emotions you experience and those you don’t access, measure your ability to empathize and see things from others’ perspectives. Such instruments can help you access and understand your internal experience, and then provide you with choice as to whether or how you act on it.

Only by understanding yourself can you make the changes you need to establish relational connectivity and create the meaningful relationships that can withstand minor setbacks and what I call the thousand tiny paper cuts of being in relationship.

Epilogue:

For most of us, our internal experience is the wallpaper of our lives, something we don’t directly look at, see, think about or question. It just is. And often once we do examine it, we can easily justify it. We’ve consciously or nonconsciously spent a lifetime constructing it.It’s how the child in us learned to survive and defend itself. And that child isn’t always the best person to trust in a relationship under stress.

Most of us don’t magically transform overnight, and neither did Tom. He was quite shocked and confronted by his EQ Profile report. And initially, he pushed back mightily on his results. He didn’t see himself as emotionally thin at all. He saw himself as generally happy and optimistic with some good relationships.

However, the EQ Profile provided him with a snapshot of what goes on inside of him when he is stressed (which was a lot of the time in his role as CEO of a struggling company). And once he accepted the truth of it, he was able to understand why people reacted to him the way they did. And why small issues quickly became big ones.

The EQ Profile provided Tom with an awareness about himself that was new and impacted his entire life. Like all of us, he took his internal experience with him everywhere he went. And understanding that experience – his gut reactions, his tendencies, the emotions he did and didn’t access, his focus, his beliefs about himself and others – empowered him with the information he needed to know about himself to begin to make more relational choices.

Sure, Tom and I regularly revisited his EQ Profile results in our coaching sessions over the next two years. And we did so because his internal experience (as illustrated by his EQ Profile results) continued to show up in the issues and challenges he brought to our work together. By reflecting on and understanding his own internal experience, doing more to fill his own joy bucket and looking for his own contribution to any given interpersonal conflict, Tom began to develop compensating strategies that allowed him to become more relational and more connective.

 

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence