Saturday 10 March 2018

Time To Think Coaching (and Collusion re-visited)

Shirley Wardell
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was booked on the Time to Think Coaching Course, with one of Nancy Kline's colleagues, Shirley Wardell.  In that blog post I also reflected on the risk of collusion that I am concerned about, in non-directive approaches to coaching.

I attended the first part of that course this week, with the second in a fortnight's time.

It was, as I had expected, extremely interesting and stimulating, and took my understanding of the Time To Think coaching process further, as well as giving me the scope to practice the process overall and in particular the elements of it with which I most needed to get more familiar.

It was also fascinating to work with Shirley, who has been a colleague of Nancy's for many years and is extremely familiar with, and skilled in, the Thinking Environment approach. Encouragingly, she is very different from Nancy - an exuberant extravert (ex-sales trainer, dramatic producer...), while Nancy is a more reflective introvert. So seeing the same principles and practices modelled - and in a very disciplined way - by such  a different character was fascinating. There was none of that sense of artificiality that I have sometimes encountered in, say NLP experts: Shirley was following the rules, as it were, but in a way that was wholly authentic and congruent with who she is.

I did raise the issue of Collusion, and of course the first response was to have a thinking round about it: all the course participants, and Shirley as the course leader, thought out loud about the topic.  

A few points emerged that were very helpful. One is that the Thinking Environment includes, as one of the ten components, Information.  That means, unlike in purely client-led sessions, the coach has the right - even, Shirley suggested, the duty - to raise issues that were important to the coachee's goals, if necessary. 

Carl Rogers
That includes the coach's perceptions, insights or wonderings - raised appropriately as questions to explore. She also mentioned Carl Rogers' criteria for assessing whether such things needed to be raised: they had to be striking, persistent, and relevant.

Another coach on the course, Ayesha Malik, highlighted the importance of contracting, in this regard.  (So much comes back to contracting!) If we have explained the ten component well, we will have included a discussion of Information, and whether - and how - we feed back our perceptions as part of the learning process. 

We also discussed strategies for when the coachee might talk through the whole session as a way (unconsciously or otherwise) of ensuring that there is no time for such feedback. Again, contracting (and if necessary re-contracting) are important here; and then raising this behaviour itself, explicitly with the client, as a topic for discussion.

So my initial concerns about the risks of collusion when using this model have been largely mitigated: it was largely a lack of understanding on my part; and the helpful part of all that is that I now know how to improve my practice in that area when using the Time To Think approach.


  1. Andrew, thank you for this reflection. I think that the chance of colluding in a coaching relationship is high. We get to know our clients and we are hoping they do well in their own terms.

    I feel so liberated, as a coach, when I remind myself that it doesn't matter what I think. What does matter is that they think for themselves.

    1. Shirley, thanks for this. However, I don't think we can absolve ourselves so easily.

      As coaches we have some ethical responsibilities to organisations (often) and wider society (always).

      After the banking crisis, some were asking: where were the coaches? If the coaches of senior leaders were prepared to work with them on agendas that were either deliberately or (more probably) unconsciously focused on their own success without any heed for (for example) ethical propriety, I think that would be problematic.

      Thus, as a coach, if I think that a client is asking for help with an agenda that will harm others, it is not sufficient to leave that to the client - particularly if he or she has a blind spot about it, but I can see it...

      In such a case, what I think does matter. Otherwise my collusion risks harming both my client and other people.