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...