Friday, 1 July 2022


One of the things that disturbs me, particularly when I waste too much time on social media, is the problem of conflation.

This arose this week when I was accused of hatred because I disagreed with someone, for example; and that seems to me to be a very common form of the problem. It contributes significantly to the polarisation and tribal hostility that is a feature of the culture wars. 

In the wake of the reversal of Roe v Wade, it has been very evident in discussions (or to be more accurate diatribes) about abortion; it is certainly a major feature of the continuing trans activist v gender critical disputes and so on. The claim is that if you don't accept my view of the situation, you must be motivated by hatred. This demonises the other, destroys any chance of meaningful dialogue and drives people further into their bunkers. 

I find this particularly odd, as I tend to like the company of, and conversation with, people who see the world differently from me. 

Many of my friends think that I am wrong to believe that the law should not sanction people killing unborn human beings; further they think that my formulation of the issue in that way is wrong too - and that my erroneous thinking will lead to great suffering and evil if enacted. But then, I think the same of their views: that to regard unborn human life as of less value, and therefore disposable, leads to great suffering and evil.  

But that doesn't mean that they have to attribute evil intention to me, nor that I have to attribute evil intention to them. In fact, no good purpose is served by such attribution. And it certainly doesn't mean that I have to dislike (or worse, hate) them; nor the other way around.

The conflation of disagreement and dislike is only one example, of course. With regard to the two topics mentioned, there is a tendency, on both sides of each debate, to muddy the waters by conflating lots of different things into one group. This is amplified, of course by sloganeering and the hashtag culture: which inevitably leads to over-simplification and conflation.

For example the more extreme end of the pro-choice lobby broadcasts that anyone opposed to abortions, wants to ban the treatment of ectopic pregnancy and thus kill women. This approach is designed more to fan the fuels of outrage on their own side of the argument, than to convince those who disagree with them (who, naturally enough, do not recognise themselves in such a mis-characterisation of their position).

And some of the nutters on the fringe of the pro-life lobby broadcast that pro-choicers want to kill children up to (and probably beyond) birth.

Likewise, some of the more militant trans rights activists say that opposing any man's ability to self-identify into (for example) a female rape crisis centre is to deny trans people's right to exist.

And on the other side of the debate, the more extreme gender critical feminists take the most egregious examples of bad behaviour by their opponents and attribute it to what they call trans ideology; and attribute that to all of their opponents.

And as I have mentioned, the result of this type of approach, practiced by those on all sides, is to drive people further into their bunkers, and to assure them of their own moral superiority and the idiocy or (more probably) malice of those who disagree with them. And we all pay a high price for such polarisation.  

The alternative, I suggest, is that we listen to each other, and try to represent what those we disagree with are actually saying; articulating the nuances and the details honestly, rather than seeking to stoke outrage by conflating them and overstating them. I have blogged before about one experiment in this regard, and the very positive outcomes. Harder work, and more boring, perhaps; but much more conducive of understanding, of generating possible ways forward, and of being able to live together with some good will.

Friday, 24 June 2022


Recently, I read Coaching Behind Bars, by Clare McGregor.  It tells the story of the birth, learning and successes of CIAO

CIAO (Coaching Inside And Out) works in prisons and with people convicted of offences or at risk of offending in our communities, as well as with their parents or carers.

It's an extraordinary story of Clare's curiosity and concern leading her to explore whether the kind of coaching that worked so well for her executive clients might be equally valuable for this group of people. 

From that exploration, CIAO has grown into a respected organisation, working alongside, but entirely separate from, the Criminal Justice system, and helping people to work on whatever they choose to work on. 

The offer is simple and quick: a limited number of sessions, to address some simple, but important questions: What do you want to change? Who are you? and How are you holding yourself back.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to their work - apart from the many individuals who tell very positive stories about its impact - is that in an environment where one might reasonably expect a degree of disenchantedness, if not cynicism, and certainly suspicion, all the people who engage in coaching do so on a completely voluntary basis, and nearly always because a previous coaching client has recommended the process to them.

What prompted me to read the book is the fact that I have just been recruited to join their team of supervisors: offering support, guidance and oversight to the coaches who are doing the frontline work.  As with all my supervisory work, I am sure that I will learn as much from the coaches I work with as they do from me.  In due course (and always observing confidentiality etc) I will share some of the generic, high-level learning on this blog.  In the meantime, do have a look at their work, and if you are a coach, and interested in supporting them, do get in touch.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Mixed Messages

I was at a special interest group virtual seminar, about Diversity and Inclusion, this week. It was a closed group, not public: you had to give your identity, credentials and reason for attending in order to get the link, to ensure that relevant people attended.

One of the themes was about the subtle messaging that we can send, either deliberately or inadvertently, that others may read, that signals that we are intending either to include or exclude.

And the meeting was set up so that not only the Q&A stream , but also the chat function, were only visible to the host and the panel speakers.

The host, opening the session, mentioned that he realised that he was 'preaching to the choir' in his opening remarks.

All of which had the effect of making me feel excluded.

It is not, of course, that I think that either Diversity or Inclusion are Bad Things; but I do like to engage critically with such topics, and there are certainly questions about the particular approach that was being championed on this seminar.  

In particular, I think that diversity and inclusion are indicators; if either or both are missing, then it may be that an injustice or a lack of charity is being committed.  But it is justice and charity that are the primary values, not diversity and inclusion per se. Sometimes a lack of diversity, and exclusion, may be both the just and the charitable state of affairs. To take a topical example, men are rightly excluded from women's sporting competitions.

But the set-up of the event made me think that raising such questions would not be welcomed - it would be like the choir questioning the vicar mid-sermon, to use the host's analogy.

As a team I worked with many years ago used to say, if you can't walk the talk, at least try to stumble the mumble...


With thanks to Tim Mossholder and Eilis Garvey for sharing their photos on Unsplash

Friday, 10 June 2022

How do you help others to think outstandingly well?

If your role involves helping, stimulating, supporting, challenging or provoking others to think at their very best, you may be familiar with Nancy Kline's work, published as Time to Think, More Time to Think, and The Promise that Changes Everything.  If you are not, these books are well worth reading and learning from.

At the heart of Nancy's approach, which she calls a Thinking Environment, is the belief that attention is generative; that is, the quality of someone's thinking, in my presence, is at least in part a product of the quality of attention that I give to them. (if you doubt this, consider the reverse: when you are trying to think about something and the person who is meant to be listening is clearly not attending... see what I mean?)

But in addition to a quality of attention that is in fact rare in most work contexts, there are nine other components of Thinking Environment; and there are various applications of these components that are suited to both group and one-to-one contexts.

Foundational is the Thinking Partnership: a precise but easeful approach to enabling someone else to think outstandingly well.  I have blogged previously about this many times, ranging from my initial exploration of the process with Nancy, through to its practical application in a coaching session. (Other posts may be found by clicking the tag Thinking Environment).

So I am delighted to be offering the Thinking Partnership Programme in the Lake District, this autumn and again next spring. This Programme teaches you the Thinking Partnership Session®, a uniquely powerful process for liberating the human mind. Through generative Attention and the building of Incisive Questions, this process produces breakthrough, independent thinking.

If you choose to join us, you will participate both as Thinker (considering topics of your choice), and as Thinking Partner (practicing this elegant expertise). Along the way you will explore all Ten Components of a Thinking Environment.

This course is a prerequisite for the Coach Qualifying Course, should you wish to take your practice to the next level.

More details are on my website, here; and of course if you wish to talk about the programme, or have any questions, I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Friday, 27 May 2022

Flipping dilemma

I had a really interesting and thought-provoking conversation, the other week, with a participant at the end of an Influencing Skills workshop.  He was an academic, and was interested in - and challenging - the fact that the workshop was a training session, whereas he and his colleagues have all had to learn to be facilitators of learning.

I had to work hard on my listening skills, to overcome my initial defensiveness. After all, I had 'flipped the classroom' by providing all the theoretical material - the models of influencing that were the basis of the workshop - in advance, via videos, podcasts and written handouts.  The idea being that the online workshop could then be about exploring and practicing those models in a highly participative way.

But he was right: for example, I encouraged participants to pick one of the influential behaviours suggested by the model (one which they were less comfortable with using) and practice that in small groups and get feedback from colleagues. (It's quite a neat exercise, in fact: I get people just to practice one moment of behaviour, and stop - no role playing etc - and get immediate feedback both on the words, but also on the use of voice and non-verbals etc - and then try it again, get feedback and try it again.  People often report dramatic improvement in both themselves and colleagues). However, it is clearly a very directed process; and my participant's point was that it took no account of people's prior levels of knowledge and experience, nor of the questions or issues that they might want to explore and so on.

Reflecting on that, I realise that I could change that exercise, and have much more of a discussion-based task: sharing experiences, learnings, questions and so forth. But my reluctance is that I think that they would lose something: after all, the practice sessions are often very useful; and they are unlikely to do them elsewhere, whereas talking about this stuff is something they could easily do outwith the session; and further, such conversations are sometimes useful, but sometimes of little value.

So reflecting further, I thought, I could offer them a choice: it's as easy on Zoom as in real life to offer a choice of activities: if you wish to do the skills practice, go to Room A; if you want to discuss and share learning etc, go to Room B.  But I notice that I am reluctant to do that, too; and the reason is that I suspect people will always opt for Room B, as it is easier and less frightening in prospect; yet I remain convinced, from years of experience, that many people benefit if pushed a little out of their comfort zone so that they do in fact practice and get feedback on their behaviour. It is a skills session, after all.

So the dilemma remains - and I will continue to ponder it.  Is it my job to support learner autonomy etc and give them what they want? Or do I have a responsibility to, as I say, push them a little out of their comfort zone and do something which I know many have found extremely beneficial, but which they are unlikely to choose?  

I could of course offer them a choice, but seek to influence the choice by explaining my views; but again that doesn't feel as though it would be a neutral option, so I wonder if it's just a way of letting myself off the hook...

As so often, this post is my thinking-out-loud about the issue. I think I will ponder it further, and also have a further conversation with the commissioning clients about this issue and see what they think (though even as I write that, I am aware of thinking that I know more about the issue than they do, because of my experience etc... and wonder if that's just another way of letting myself off the hook...)

So I am grateful to the participant who raised this, as it is giving me lots to think about: and that work is clearly unfinished at this stage.


With thanks to Pizieno and Quang Nguyen vinh for sharing their images on Pixabay 

Friday, 20 May 2022

Why did I steal the pears?

I didn't actually. The question is raised by Augustine, writing in North Africa in the late 300s.  He is reflecting on a youthful misdemeanour when he and some other lads raided a neighbour's pear tree late one night, for it was, he writes, our bad habit to carry on our games in the street till very late.

His point is that he didn't actually want the pears: they weren't very nice, and he and his friends ended up throwing them at some local pigs. So why did he steal them in the first place?  He reflects that he would not have done so, but for the company he was in; but presumably the same was true the other way around.

All of which took me back to some of the misdemeanours of my adolescence: why did I do them?  In part, of course, showing off, and fear of losing face with my friends with whom I was wandering the night streets of West London for it was our bad habit to carry on our games in the street till very late.

But where was the pleasure? What was the gain? These are the hard questions with which Augustine wrestles.

Not being as profound a thinker as he is, I am struck by something else: that sense of recognition in what he writes about. Sixteen hundred years later, in another country and another culture, we were exactly the same.

And whilst I am ashamed of my adolescent bad behaviour, there is a certain pleasure to be found in that sense of common humanity, even if it is humanity at its less edifying: boys, as the saying goes, will be boys. And for me that is one of the reasons that reading ancient literature is so satisfying: connecting across time and space in extraordinary ways; and when that connection is with a mind as fine as that of Augustine, one realises that he may well have much to teach us, even in the 21st century.


With thanks to Dan Gold for sharing this photo on Unsplash

Thursday, 12 May 2022


One of the things that comes up time and again in my coaching work is the business of comparisons. Very frequently, people compare themselves unfavourably with some luminary in their field.  And that makes them feel inadequate and even, potentially, hopeless.

As I see hope as very important, I like to counter this.  I also place great value on humour (qv).

And, because it is always someone stellar with whom they draw the comparison, it s fairly easy to tease them about it. So I talk a little about my being an adult learner of the piano, and yet, for all my practice, not being as good as Rachmaninov.  I then go on to my attempts to play tennis, and lament that I am still nowhere near Federer's standard.

By this stage, they are beginning to get the point; however, never one to be subtle when hobnailed boots are available, I then deliver the coup de grace: "My one consolation is that I am a better pianist than Federer, and a better tennis player than Rachmaninov!"

And that moves the conversation on, normally with some laughter, to a consideration of the value and limitations of such comparisons.

Personally, I like Jordan Peterson's take on this. I know we're not meant to approve of anything he says, but actually I find him a stimulating character, who is often insightful when discussing his professional practice; it is when he strays into other areas beyond his professional competence that I think he is more... what's the word?...  Nonetheless, I think that he is wise on this; for his take is that the best comparison to make is with ourselves, yesterday.  That is, am I better at (whatever it s I am working on) than I was yesterday, or last week, or last year.  That is a useful comparator: for if we are making progress, it is good to acknowledge that; and if we are not, it is worth addressing. 

But I must end now, as I'm off to give Roger his piano lesson, before meeting Sergei for a quick game of tennis.