Tuesday 22 December 2015

Merry Christmas to all Clients, Colleagues and Friends

I wish all my clients, colleagues and friends a very blessed Christmas and a happy and successful New Year.

2015 has been another good year for us;

  • I continue to have lots of interesting work with interesting people;
  • I have finished the long awaited book, and once the graphic work is completed, it will be published (early 2016, I hope);
  • I have also started a post-graduate diploma in Coaching, which I am enjoying enormously;
  • Jane has wrested complete control of my diary, the back office, the accounts and all the other important parts of the business, which has resulted in a huge improvement in all areas;
  • Annie has qualified as a teacher, Clare has spent time travelling in China, working in Zambia, and now has a job with a charity in Manchester; Mike got a First in his Graphic Design foundations course, and is now enjoying life as an undergraduate at Northumbria; and Lizzie aced her GCSEs and is loving the 6th Form.
Here's a family portrait, as we appear to Mike, when we are reading:

I always think Christmas a good time for poetry, so here is one of my favourite poems:

The Journey of the Magi 

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

T S Eliot

Wednesday 9 December 2015

My Dark Side

A number of my coaching clients, and some fellow coaches whose work I rate highly, have spoken well of the Hogan psychometrics, and especially the one that identifies potential career de-railers - the so-called Dark Side assessment.

So I have decided to get trained on these, and as a first step, had  a go at completing one myself, under the guidance of Julia Cater of People Decisions. It was very interesting.

My initial reflections on the report that emerged are that it has quite high face-validity; that is, I recognise myself in it (rather more than, say, a horoscope). Moreover, my wife (if not my greatest fan, certainly my most acute critic) also recognised me in it.  And we could both see, even though there are areas where we both think it gets it wrong, that it is a very useful basis for reflection and discussion with a coach (I have yet to meet Julia for the de-brief).

Overall, it suggests that my high scores (that is, my strengths-that-might-become-weaknesses-under-pressure are being Reserved (Independent can become detached), Imaginative (Imaginative can become eccentric) and Colourful (vivacious can become dramatic).

I also score very low on some areas where perhaps I lack the strengths at all: Diligent, Dutiful and Sceptical.

By and large, that's not too far off the mark.  However, I strongly disagree with Lacking few well-defined beliefs or interests, but with regrets about past behaviour and Lack passion or enthusiasm.

I think the Reserved is somewhat overstated, particularly Not communicate frequently or well,  and likewise the Colourful  especially Talk more than he listens.  And clearly, those two points, Not communicate frequently or well, and Talk more than he listens, sit rather oddly together.

However, I can see how it arrived at all of these, and they (and many of the other points) are worthy of thought and discussion - and even as I type, I am wondering if, under extreme stress, those may have some validity...

The big question, of course, is about the self-report aspect. For instance, I answered some questions based on the literal words, even though I suspected (and I think rightly) that they would be interpreted in a way that is not what I feel about myself. For example, when a question has ‘never’ or ‘always’ in it, I always take that literally so will tend to disagree, as there is nearly always at least one exception; whereas if it has nearly always or almost never, I will answer the opposite way.  So the process didn’t feel very robust in that way. Also, I was aware of what it was likely to be saying about me, and there is always that tendency to answer about the Andrew I’d like to be…

All in all, very interesting, despite these reservations, and as I say, it could certainly be the basis of some useful exploratory discussions and reflections.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Reply from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust

In my recent post about the misrepresentation of Merhrabian's research (that stuff about words being only 7% of the way we understand communication), I mentioned that I had been told it was sourced from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I looked at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Website, and found it did not, in fact, quote these percentages, but did make the claim in words. I gather the text on the WWW is taken from their leaflet Keeping Safe: Dealing with Aggression. I concluded my last post by saying that I would write to them about this.

Therefore, I emailed as follows:

On your website, (here) you say that 'The majority of communication is through body language, a lot through tone of voice and only a little through words.’ (your emphasis). I assume this refers to the work of Albert Mehrabian, but he himself distances himself from such claims, and puts important caveats on how his research is interpreted and applied. 
I think you should re-consider how you present this. If you are interested in my particular thoughts, I have just blogged about it here. 
I am writing to you, as I think the work you do very important - and therefore want to help you to do it as well as possible.
I heard nothing, so wrote a follow up,  
Did you receive the email below? 
I see that your website remains unchanged. 
As I said on my blog on the subject (here): I find this misrepresentation of Mehrabian's work bad enough in corporate life; but in the context of safeguarding, it is worse. For instance, if it becomes widely accepted as fact, what is to prevent a rapist claiming that, although his victim said No, 93% of her communication was saying Yes?... That cannot be a justification that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust would accept.  

I got an apology: my email had apparently been misrouted, and the promise of a fuller reply in due course. Eventually I received this:
Thank you for your email. Suzy Lamplugh Trust is a personal safety charity and we work to reduce the risk of violence and aggression for everyone. The information provided in the leaflet you have referred to aims to help individuals who are in stressful or difficult situations to understand the options available to them. The specific quote to which you refer seeks to highlight the need for workers who undertake difficult and/or stressful tasks to be aware of how their behaviour may be interpreted by the people they are interacting with. This will enable them to complete a dynamic risk assessment and take measures to defuse, de-escalate or exit a situation if necessary. This information is given to educate and empower individuals.  
Whenever a crime is committed, Suzy Lamplugh Trust is clear that the responsibility for that crime lies solely with the perpetrator. Everyone has the right to live their lives safely.
I hope that this alleviates your concern however if you have further questions please get back in touch.
I did not think that really addressed the issue I had raised, so I wrote again:
Thanks for your reply. 
I think you misunderstand my concern. I am well aware of the excellent work and reputation of the Trust. 
My concern is very simple. Your wwwsite says: 'The majority of communication is through body language, a lot through tone of voice and only a little through words.’
I believe that to be untrue, and think I have understood and indicated the source of the error.  
I also think that publishing untrue information may have unintended negative consequences. 
I am sure your intentions are honourable, etc. However what I am not clear about is whether you think that the information is in fact true (in which case I would be fascinated to know your sources); or whether you think it untrue (or simply don’t know), but are happy to publish on that basis in pursuit of a good aim?
Today, I received this further reply:
Thank you for flagging your concern. We regularly review the information on our website and will take your comments in to (sic) consideration when we next revisit our website material. 
So I will re-visit their site occasionally, and see if they make any changes. But if this is a polite brush-off, then I will take it further up the chain, as I believe it to be a serious issue. 

Friday 27 November 2015

Coaching Supervision

Last Friday, Cumbria Coaching Network's meeting was a session on Coaching Supervision, led by Trish Brady.  Trish led a discussion of the what, why and how of coaching supervision, and then demonstrated a supervisory session, with a volunteer coach, using Hawkins' 7-eyed model.

She also invited us to contribute appropriate questions for the different levels, many of which were extremely helpful in provoking new insights for the coach.

Then on Tuesday, I facilitated a meeting of the external coaches that Newcastle University uses, and as part of that invited the coaches present to share what they had learned relevant to coaching practice, over the last year or so. 

I was struck by how many mentioned the value of supervision. That in itself should not be surprising, of course, as one of the purposes of coaching supervision is to ensure that the coach continues to learn through his or her practice.  But a number of people cited the value of having more than one supervisor, or of having both a single supervisor and attending a group of co-supervisors. 

That closely reflected my own experience over this last year. I have a long term coaching supervisor, the excellent Ann Bowen-Jones, who is both a psychologist and a great coach, and who has helped me learn a huge amount over the years - and continues to do so. 

But this year I have added to that. I have joined a coaching supervision group, in which alternate meetings are co-supervision, and for the ones in-between we invite Keri Phillips to supervise. These have taken my understanding in new directions: the different interests and experiences of the group members regularly surprise me and open up new perspectives.  And more recently, I have established a co-supervision arrangement with Jan Allon-Smith,  as a way for both of us both to improve our coaching practice, but also deliberately learn more about the process of supervision: and again Hawkins and Shohet's work is one of the frameworks we use for that.

All of this has been hugely beneficial in terms of broadening and accelerating my development as a coach; so the upshot of this is simply a reflection for myself, and a piece of advice to other professional coaches, on the high value of multiple supervisory perspectives.

Friday 20 November 2015

The Story of the Unfinished Business...

At a supervision meeting of volunteers I work with, the issue of Unfinished Business was raised. One of the least satisfying parts of our work is that we often never hear the end of our clients' stories. When they are no longer in crisis and no longer need support, our involvement can end. That can be very unsatisfying, and sometimes unsettling: we know we left them on an upwards trajectory, but rarely is everything sorted and perfect.

That issue of unfinished business reminded me of a story a friend told me over dinner a week or so previously. He had suffered from adult-onset epilepsy. The medication he was given had an unfortunate side-effect. He started to suffer from troubling flashbacks/daydreams. These were all of a similar nature. He would remember some past encounter, of a trivial nature, with someone whom he had only met once, when the encounter had ended unsatisfactorily from his point of view. Many of these dated back years, and he had not consciously thought about them since.

One example was a time he had been stopped by traffic police and one of them had been unnecessarily sarcastic, some twenty years ago. But what troubled him was that each flashback ended with an imagined scene in which he beat up the other person. Needless to say, he is not given to violence, nor even to violent fantasies. So he found these flashbacks/daydreams very troubling, and at one stage was having several a day.

He went for a couple of counselling sessions, and his counsellor suggested a very simple idea. He should re-visit each of these encounters in his mind, and re-write the story by imagining an ending with which he would have been satisfied. So in the case of the police, for example, he imagined that he had had a word with the non-sarcastic police officer about the other's behaviour. He further imagined that the non-sarcastic officer had returned to the patrol car and given his colleague some uncompromising feedback about his sarcastic behaviour.

As he was telling me this part of the story his wife chipped in, to say that she had been extremely sceptical of this idea when he returned from that counselling session. It sounded too easy, too simple, to be effective. Yet effective it was!

From the moment he imagined a better ending to each of these stories, which I suppose must have been lurking unresolved deep in his unconscious mind for years, the flashbacks stopped. 

Just when I thought I had completed my book on Story, too...

Saturday 14 November 2015

Singing to Break the Ice

I was intrigued to read the research from Oxford about singing as the most effective way to break the ice with groups.

I read this just as I was starting running a Leadership Programme with the VC at Winchester University, for 20 or so academics and professional services staff. 

So it seemed a good idea to apply the research. The question was, what to get them to sing.  I decided on monophonic (rather than say, barbershop!) music, as I wanted to work within my own limitations, and did not want to spend too long on the exercise.

But I also wanted something that would be challenging, new to them, and relevant. As it was just before Remembrance Sunday, and also because it is music I know well, I decided on the Introit from the Gregorian Chant Requiem. 

It felt a little risky, but I explained to them why we were doing it (ie I'd just read some research) and then taught them the first phrase, word by word. I displayed the music on a screen (and much help that was, I am sure). They entered into it with a will, and one of them made a point of telling me later that she and others with whom she had talked had really liked the exercise.

Encouraged by that feedback, I did the same thing with a similar group in Cardiff, again with the VC obliged to sing along, on Remembrance Day itself. This time, the exercise was greeted by applause. 

To be honest, I wondered if the applause was at least in part an emotional discharge, as I know some people find the requirement to sing in public embarrassing. So I will read the written (and anonymous if desired) feedback from both groups with particular interest. And if it does mention the icebreaker, I will report back here.

In the meantime, this is how it should sound: from a concert I organised a decade or more back with the Schola Cantorum (School of Chant) with which I used to sing in Newcastle.

For the record, it was a wonderful concert. Eric Cross's choir joined us, and sang the Duruflé Requiem, which is clearly based on the Gregorian Chant melodies, with modern French harmonisation. And the way we programmed it, was to put the movements side by side: so we sang the chant Introit, then the choir sand the Duruflé Introit, and so on.

So here is the Duruflé Introit (and the rest of his Requiem, come to that), for old times' sake.

Friday 13 November 2015

Emotions, Thoughts and Meditation

I am a fan of Goleman's work on Emotional Intelligence, and particularly as applied to Leadership (see The New Leaders).

One of the many reasons it appeals to me, is that it starts with the self. Rather than describe what a leader should do or say to others, in order to lead, it starts with the leader increasing his or her self-awareness: noticing, and then learning to regulate, what is going on for oneself emotionally.

However, recently I was talking with a leader I know. He is, I think, a good leader and manages his emotions effectively most of the time, which also enables him to lead others well, in the way Goleman et al suggest. However, he was telling me of a recent occasion when he 'lost his rag' in a senior meeting.  

The occasion was relatively trivial: and indeed that was what infuriated him. Senior people seemed to him to be squabbling about something of little or no consequence. It was silly and it was a waste of time, in a meeting when there was much serious work to be done.

All of which prompted me to think that it is not sufficient to notice and regulate one's emotional responses, important though that may be. Under pressure (or for other less obvious reasons, in this case probably a combination of overwork, exhaustion and exasperation) the emotions may leak out and one may lose one's rag.

So there is a prior discipline: of considering how we are making sense of the world, and doing so in a way that does not lead to us having to manage sudden emotional responses. There are many approaches to this, including CBT based approaches, for example, and my work on Story (did I mention, I have finished the book - there is just a little editing to be done now...?). So as well as the emotional component, we have to attend to the rational. But the other component, I think, is the spiritual: the cultivation of serenity, through a spiritual discipline to match the intellectual and emotional disciplines. 

That, I think, is what meditation has to offer, and why it is being rediscovered as an important part of the repertoire for those seeking to be truly effective. I have blogged before about my own developing discipline, here. I was reminded of the impact that this practice is having once again, when a couple of fairly major issues popped out of the woodwork, and I found that I was not only able to cope with them calmly, but also to feel calm throughout - which meant there was no danger of inadvertent leakage of inner turmoil.

Meditation is one of those things for which we feel we never have time: after all, it feels as though we are doing nothing - a terrible waste of time! But increasingly, I am convinced that investing time in meditating (a little, regularly) is saving me huge amounts of both time and energy.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Diversity Training

I have been reflecting on Diversity and Diversity Training recently. As usual, this post is my thinking aloud on the subject. In particular, I am no expert on this one, and am interested if others think I am on the wrong track here.

A while back, I was running some change workshops for a large organisation, for a number of teams who were facing a serious and unwanted change.

As we planned them, the responsible senior manager mentioned that we would also have to include some diversity training, as it was that organisation's policy that all their training should include diversity training (I understand that there was some history behind that policy, of the organisation falling foul of discrimination legislation).

I was clear that I am not particularly well-informed on the subject: my idea of diversity training would be that we should be nice to everyone, whether we agree with, or approve of, them or not.

However, we realised that we needed to do something a little more substantial, and so the corporate diversity champion was invited to contribute. He agreed to do a half hour slot on each of the workshops.

He was a charming gay man, who entertained the group by starting his session singing an operatic aria: he had a fine tenor voice. He then told us a little of his history as a gay man in a world that was often prejudiced against gay men. He told us how hurtful it was when social workers had questioned him about his relationship, when he was seeking to adopt children. He ended with a plea that we should all campaign for equal marriage (this was before the legislation).

Afterwards, the senior manager with whom I was working said that she had wanted to ask some questions, but had known that she could not. Her concern was that they could have been interpreted by him or by others present as homophobic, and that would have been the end of her career.

I was reminded of all this when reading some of the debates surrounding Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, who has just been awarded Woman of the Year status by some magazine; and Germaine Greer's view that a man who decides he is a woman does not, thereby, become a woman. 

The odium heaped on Greer by some was extraordinary. She did not, so far as I could see, wish any ill on Jenner, or wish to deny him anything; she merely disagreed intellectually with him. And that gave me pause for thought. 

And what I thought was this:

Surely diversity cannot mean that we must all agree with everyone about everything; it must mean that we cultivate the ability to work positively and compassionately with those with whom we disagree.

I liked the gay man who was the corporate diversity champion, and it is no fault of his if questioning any of his assertions is too risky for a senior manager. I sympathise with Caitlyn Jenner: I cannot imagine what he has gone through, but can well believe it to have been very difficult.  

However, what both these people, and much of the diversity industry, seem to me to want is not just sympathy and understanding, but approval and unquestioning agreement with their worldview.

When one has been oppressed and hurt, I can see how easy it is to conflate disagreement and dislike: but in fact they are not the same thing.

And when it comes to diversity training: it seems to me that it is all too often promoting homogeneity of view rather than debating and, dare I say it respecting, diversity of view.

The pinch point comes when you get students at a University who are so wound up by this, that they wish to make the University a 'safe space' - a space into which views that they do not like cannot intrude. That seems to me to be the antithesis of a University, and I was glad to see the Vice Chancellor at Cardiff tread that difficult line of robustly defending free speech, whilst also positively affirming the University's commitment to equality and diversity.

Saturday 24 October 2015

What do I think I am doing?

I was struck, reading Brown and Brown's Neuropsychology for Coaches, by this:
By effective coaching from a brain-based perspective, we mean: The capacity of a professional coach to so understand and manage the brain processes of the person who is being coached that effective change and development within the person, plus the consolidation of change and development, is deliberately created and consolidated for that person’s benefit, bounded by what has been agreed contractually between the two people involved. 
I love the clarity of that, but is that what I really believe I am doing, when I am coaching?

And if it is, how do I do it?  

Historically, I have described my coaching to new clients like this:

Confidentiality is guaranteed, but there are boundaries to the confidentiality contract:

1 If the coaching is being paid for by someone other than the individual, then objectives may need to be agreed with the sponsoring organisation (typically the employer) - which will clearly reflect part of our initial conversation. I will always agree these with you before sending anything to your employer. That will also normally include the number and the duration of meetings, and an indication of when the coaching is completed. There is no other feedback from me to the employer.

2 I discuss my coaching work with my coaching supervisors, but do not identify individuals.

3 If you reveal that you are working against the best interests of the sponsoring organisation (typically the employer), or breaking the law of the land, then I will suggest that you stop, and tell someone as appropriate. If not, I may have to tell someone - and will inform you of that.

The mechanics of the process

When we work together the agenda is set by you: we will work together on issues that are chosen by, and important to, you.

Meetings are typically 90 minutes long, face-to-face, by Skype or phone; at a frequency to suit you (typically around every 4 - 6 weeks).

In between sessions, you will have work to do: the actions (which may include reflection, reading, as well as doing)  you have chosen as a result of the coaching conversation

What you can expect of me as a coach

I see my role firstly as to help you to see more options than you are currently seeing, both in terms of the understanding you are making of reality, and in particularly in terms of possible actions.

I may do that in any one of a number of ways. It may be simply by listening and questioning, to take your thinking to new places. It may be by bringing some relevant theory or knowledge to bear. It may be by sharing experiences of working with others on similar issues. It may be by using my own intuition. However, the intention is always to develop more options.

A second aspect of my role is to encourage you to take action. So towards the end of each coaching session I will ask: ‘So what are you actually going to do as a result of this conversation?’ Action often includes thinking tasks as well as activity in the more usual sense of the word.

A third aspect is to act as an external conscience: to help you to hold to your good intentions. So before the start of second and subsequent meetings, I ask you to send me a Success Report: a pro forma that invites you to reflect on what actions you committed to, what you actually did, what you learned, and what your priorities are for the next conversation. 

A fourth aspect of my role is to help you to reflect and to learn from experience. Therefore we start the second and every subsequent conversation by reviewing actions and learning arising.

At the end of the agreed programme of coaching, I encourage you to reflect on learning over the whole process, and to plan to sustain it beyond the end of the coaching relationship. I also invite feedback on the process, both in that final meeting, and subsequently via an online questionnaire some 3 months later. We may also agree a 6- or 12-month followup.

What I expect of you

I expect you to discuss the issues we are addressing openly and honestly.

I expect you to take the actions you have chosen at the end of each session, to reflect on them, and to report them back to me via the Success Report.

I invite, expect and welcome feedback throughout the coaching process.

What we might work on

People bring a huge range of issues to their coaching conversations. Some that come up frequently include:

Career development
Coping with unwanted change/unexpected setbacks
Emotional intelligence
Fire fighting and long-term goal achievement
Managing upwards
Organisational politics
Performance management
Personal resilience
Strategic thinking
Time management
Work/life balance

… and so on. 


What I am now considering, is whether that is still an accurate and sufficient description. It is based on a practice that focuses on skilled listening as a major factor in effective change (cf Carl Rogers, Nancy Kline etc) and also on Kolb's learning cycle. 

But it says nothing about the psychological and spiritual understandings that increasingly underpin my work. 

As I study, work with other coaches, learn from my reading and my supervision sessions, I have a growing awareness of all of these, and they inform my practice: but finding words to describe them is difficult. I don't want to talk too much about the therapeutic understandings both because I am not a trained therapist, nor do I want people to be put off coaching because they don't want therapy.

Likewise, I am wary of talking too much about the spiritual dimension, at least until people know me a little, as that is so open to so much misunderstanding, that I fear that any discussion of it may mislead more than it enlightens.

Yet, I want to be authentic and open with my coaching clients: indeed, I think that is essential for a good coaching relationship.

So over the next few weeks and months, I will be continuing to work on this: and if I get anywhere, I will certainly blog about it.

And as ever, I welcome thoughts and ideas from others, whether publicly (in the comments here, for example) or privately in conversation or by email.

Friday 16 October 2015

Non-Judgemental Coaching

I have been reflecting on Non-Judgemental Coaching, and this post is really my thinking aloud on the topic.

On the face of it, being non-judgemental seems a good stance for a coach to take, and it is often taken as a given for good coaching practice. See here, and here for a couple of fairly typical examples. 

But the more I think of this, the less that simple stance makes sense.

On the one hand, of course nobody wants to be judged, and further, as a coach, one tries to work with the client's material, including his or her judgement.

However, even in the first article cited above, the author writes:   It is, however, a truism that it is necessary and useful to challenge universal truths the Client holds if these are limiting or otherwise damaging to the process of self-change and realisation. Building the coaching relationship is a dynamic process which nurtures honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity.

Clearly, such challenges are based on a judgement, made by the coach, that 'these are limiting or otherwise damaging to the process of self-change and realisation.' So how can one call such an approach non-judgemental?

Likewise, to say that 'Building the coaching relationship is a dynamic process which nurtures honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity,' is to bring a lot of judgements to bear: not least, judgements about the desirability of 'honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity.'

Moreover, one of the things a coach may decide is important is to offer support to a client who is making a difficult decision, which others are deriding. It may well be the client's own decision; and indeed that may well be why, as a coach, one would want to support it, to help develop the client to develop his or her autonomy. But such support is in itself a judgement - approving the client's courage in making a difficult autonomous decision is judgemental.

Sometimes when I go down this track with people, they retreat into saying that being judgemental is making negative judgements, not positive ones. But even that won't do. If I approve some decisions, then the client knows that I am making a judgement. If I am then silent about other decisions, the client will understand that I am withholding approval - which is also a judgement.

Moreover, posing as non-judgemental, if that is not what we are actually thinking or feeling, is inauthentic; and therefore likely to be counter-productive in terms of the coaching relationship.

So I think that we need to be much more nuanced than this, and my current working theory is this:

1 I do not judge my clients, as people;
2 I am likely to reach judgements about their decisions, or actions; it may or may not be helpful to let them know these;
3 The client's own judgements about their decisions or actions are more important to elicit and to work with;
4 The client's judgements are not infallible;
5 It is part of my professional responsibility to make many other judgements: about the way in which we are working together; about what interventions might be appropriate; about ethical considerations; and more besides. 

But as I say, this is thinking aloud, so I am interested in others' views on this - and will doubtless develop, and possibly change, mine.


PS  (2021) I wrote this some 6 years ago now, and of all my blog posts, it is the one that is most visited on a regular basis - it now has nearly double the number of hits compared to any other post. I am curious about this: if you read this, and feel so inclined, could you add a comment to let me know what or who directed you here. Has someone somewhere put it on a reading list - and if so, as an example of wisdom, idiocy, or something in-between?...  Thanks  AS

Monday 12 October 2015

Here We Go Again

I was at a training session for my voluntary work with vulnerable families the other day. As part of it, we were given a quiz to complete and discuss; and one of the questions was about percentage of  the meaning of communication that was conveyed by words, by tone of voice, and by body language.

Here we go again, I thought. And I was right. I have blogged before about the Mehrabian myth, but in summary, his (limited) studies, if they mean anything, suggest that the oft-quoted percentages apply in very specific contexts:

1 When the words and the non-verbal clues are in clear conflict (saying Yes while shaking one's head, for example); and

2 When talking about feelings or attitudes.

Yet I have heard this presented often, and never with that explanation. Instead, we are told as an absolute that 'In face to face communications, words are only 7% of the meaning.' A quick google search reveals a vast number of pie charts like the one I have created (all copyrighted, of course...)  And indeed, most trainers I have heard explain it have never heard of Albert Mehrabian, and cannot cite a source for the ludicrous figures.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to respond animatedly: "Mais c'est vachement incroyable! Si c'était vrai, vous pourriez tous me comprendre quand je parle français, car les mots ne sont que sept pour cent du sens!" which might have made my point rather effectively: after all, if words are only 7% of the communication, why would they not have understood 93% of my meaning?

Instead, I did offer a little feedback, and ask where they had got this information. To their credit they were open to my comments and genuinely interested. They said they had often heard the figures quoted, and thought they came from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust material they used. I have looked at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust site, and they do not quote the figures there, but do say  'The majority of communication is through body language, a lot through tone of voice and only a little through words.' (Their emphasis).

I find this misrepresentation of Mehrabian's work bad enough in corporate life; but in the context of safeguarding, it is worse. For instance, if it becomes widely accepted as fact, what is to prevent a rapist claiming that, although his victim said No, 93% of her communication was saying Yes?... That cannot be a justification that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust would accept. I will be writing to them about this...

Friday 2 October 2015

Interesting Assumptions

I have just completed the first assignment for my ILM diploma in coaching. It was an interesting process, and I have enjoyed engaging with a wider range of literature, and some very stimulating conversations with my tutor, Simon Whalley of Bluetree Development

However, I was struck by, and indeed took exception to, some of the assumptions made by whoever devised the assignment. The title was 'Establish the organisational context, strategy, culture and processes for coaching or mentoring at a senior level.' That was fair enough: it is a diploma in Executive Coaching, after all.

But consider this: 'Critically review the skills and behaviours required for ethical practice in coaching or mentoring at a senior and strategic level,' and also this:  'Justify the importance and role of codes of practice, contracting and supervision at this level of coaching or mentoring practice.'

In both of these cases, there seems to be an implication that there is something distinctive about working with senior people; as though those lower in the organisational hierarchy do not need their coaches to be ethical, nor to contract well, follow codes of practice or receive supervision.

Clearly that is nonsense. 

And it may be that I am being over-pedantic in picking up on the wording so precisely, but I fear I am not. Rather I think it plays into another agenda, and one which the coaching bodies such as AC and EMCC risk colluding with: that there is something superior about executive coaches.

I find some of my clients make the same assumption: in tenders, I am regularly asked about differential pricing for senior and junior coaching. But to me that makes no sense. Some of the most challenging work I have done (challenging for me and for the person being coached) has been with people at a low level in the hierarchy. Likewise, some (though not all) of my senior clients are very easy to coach: they are bright, open to learning, adept at finding what will be useful and integrating it into their thinking or behavioural repertoire, and so on.

As I start work on a voluntary basis with some troubled families, I suspect I may find some tougher work with unemployed people or youngsters still in education than anything I have encountered so far - indeed, that is one of the reasons I am choosing to volunteer for that work.

So just as I am wary of those who style themselves Master Practitioners of whatever field of OD they practice, so I am wary of those who label themselves Executive Coach.

For me, a good coach is a good coach - and a big ego is not a pre-requisite...

Friday 25 September 2015

Another Good Book

I have just finished another excellent book, Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching. In this ambitious book, Bluckert provides both a comprehensive overview of, and practical insights into, the field of Executive Coaching. 

He starts by establishing a framework for effective coaching, including the critical success factors, and then surveys the common issues that coaches are asked to help with. All of this was useful, though a little pedestrian at times (for example the coachability levels framework).

However, for me it was the next section that was particularly valuable: The Foundations of a Psychological Approach to Coaching. Here he addresses the key dimensions of a coaching session, and develops the idea of psychological mindedness as an essential coaching attribute. That leads into a discussion of the desirable proficiencies of a coach, and, naturally enough, how to develop as a coach.

The final section was also fascinating, as he addresses the issue of helping people through change from a Gestalt perspective. I have long been interested in Gestalt, and have worked with skilled Gestalt-trained change agents, (most notably Warren Scott, of Oakwood Learning) and picked up a little along the way. So I was particularly pleased to see this and extend my knowledge a bit further: it reminds me of other books on Gestalt and change on my bookcase that I really must get around to studying (something about unfinished business there...).

I was slightly frustrated, reading this, as I had borrowed a copy, so I couldn't scribbble in the margins. Fortunately, my new copy arrived this morning, so I will now re-read it, making copious notes as I go, and hope that this helps my retention.

The next challenge is increasing my psychological mindedness as I coach: that will, I think, be a longer term process...

Friday 18 September 2015

Strategic Five Marketing - Again

I have been reflecting on why I am so angered by Strategic Five's apparently dishonest approach to recruitment, and also doing a little more digging.  This post is a summary of where I am up to. For the background, see my previous post, here, if you have not already read it.

I am angry because it seems to me both wrong in principle and cruel in practice to behave in the way that they seem to do. Cruel is a strong word, and I do not imply that is their intention, but I do not think it overstates the impact of their tactics.

Here's the story of the graduate whom I know best who was fooled by them. He graduated a couple of years ago, started doing a PGCE and then realised that teaching really wasn't for him. So he quit that after a year, and started looking for other jobs. He has found some filler jobs, as it were, to keep the wolf from the door, but is still searching for a reasonable graduate job. 

He has sent in many application forms and CVs and typically heard nothing back: that is a dispiriting process. Then he got an interview for a Graduate Management Programme - and the interview went well. He liked them, and they liked him. So his hopes were raised, his confidence, which had been flagging, was boosted. Over the weekend he told a few friends and got the response: 'I hope it's not Strategic Five...' As I recounted before, he tried to ascertain if he were being led up the garden path, Strategic Five denied it, and then, with tragic inevitability, on the Monday, it was confirmed: he'd been conned. Needless to say, that did nothing for his confidence.

What makes me angry is not just the impact on him, but the fact that Strategic Five seem to have been doing this repeatedly. 

A look at Twitter reveals comments like:

It is interesting that Strategic Five have not responded to these tweets, though they must be aware of them as their Twitter handle was quoted, which draws it to their attention: and their feed is not very busy with notifications, as far as I can see.

Likewise, I took a quick look at The Student Room website and found these. The first is quite recent, but the second is from 2013 - so this has been going on for some time.

Note in both the Twitter comments and the fuller comments on The Student Room how frustrating the experience was for these duped graduates: and then remember that two of Strategic Five's four professed values are Honesty and Respect.

I have emailed Strategic Five, and tweeted at them, but had no reply: again for a marketing organisation, that seems strange. Likewise, I find it strange that they boast about their client base including 'the Nation's biggest brands' but do not name a single client on their wwwsite.

One last thing I dug up: Strategic Five are advertising a range of jobs with a range of salaries on recruitment websites. These are almost certainly bogus, given that their Linked-In site says they have 1-10 employees - recruiting 15 'marketing' jobs would more than double their size in one go.