Friday 30 April 2021

Disclosure Remorse

Sometimes, when someone finally finds someone (say a coach) who is prepared to listen to them... and then listen some more... and then listen some more... without interrupting, without sharing parallels from their own experience, without judging, and without offering advice... well, sometimes they pour out their heart and their soul.  That can be particularly true if there are things that they have been unable to talk about or process in any other forum: so the confidentiality of a coaching relationship makes that particularly likely.

I have experienced that, as a coach, on many occasions, and very frequently in the initial, introductory conversation. Once someone has established that it is safe to talk - that confidentiality is guaranteed, and (I assume) having judged that I can be trusted - it can be a huge relief finally to tell someone just what they are thinking and feeling. At times they cry, or shout. And that is all OK.

And then a curious thing sometimes happens.  At the next meeting, they turn up much more guarded, or sometimes even noticeably uncomfortable. That is what I term Disclosure Remorse.

Interestingly, I don't remember reading anything in any of the coaching literature about this; nor has it been discussed on any of the coaching courses, workshops or masterclasses that I have attended.

I began to wonder if it was just me...

And then I discussed it with one of my supervisors. He comes from a therapeutic background, and recognised what I was describing instantly. Indeed, he also told me that he often discusses this with his clients at an early stage, and invites them to think ahead: 'what will you think, do you imagine, when you look back on this conversation, and think how open and honest you have been - how vulnerable you have allowed yourself to be?'  He reassures them that this is both normal, and valuable in the context of the conversations that they will continue to have together.

That was hugely helpful (and exemplifies one of the many benefits of supervision). So now I have a strategy to address this.

And of course, Disclosure Remorse is completely understandable.  We all have boundaries in place, and often for good reason; and when we cross those boundaries (as, I realise, I reflected towards the end of this post when I had done so) we feel vulnerable, and possibly even some sense of shame. Sometimes that may be wholly appropriate, of course; without wishing to over-indulge in self-disclosure, I can recall times as a student, say, and involving alcohol, when I was quite right to be ashamed the next morning of things I may have said...  But clearly in the context of coaching (and even more, therapy) such shame is misplaced.

So I am pleased that my supervisor helped me to develop an appropriate strategy - and I look forward to trying it out, and seeing if it is, in fact, as helpful as I expect.


With thanks to Tom Pumford  Kyle Glenn and  Christian Erfurt for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Friday 23 April 2021

The Thinking Council

This week I completed the final part of my practicum and have been duly qualified as a Thinking Environment Facilitator.  That has involved both written work (I did a piece on the relationship between the Thinking Environment and Emotional Intelligence, building on previous blog posts which my loyal reader will doubtless remember) and also practical work: running a number of workshops on the application of Thinking Environment principles to facilitation, as well as both chairing and facilitating meetings according to those principles and practices.

In all of that, the part that has proved hardest, in practice, has been the Thinking Council. The idea of a Thinking Council is to enable someone who is facing a challenge of some sort to pick his or her colleagues' brains, without being given a load of advice. Those who know Nancy Kline, or understand her work well, will appreciate that this is predicated on keeping the individual (in this case the person presenting the challenge) thinking independently, rather than relying on others' thinking.

So the process is that the challenge-holder (hereafter 'presenter') presents the challenge to a group of colleagues or friends, in the form of a question. After an initial round of clarification of the question (not interrogating the challenge, as that will be never-ending...) each participant is invited to share an experience from his or her past that, in some way, speaks to the challenge. One colleague also volunteers to take notes, so that the presenter can listen with that exquisite attention that is the hallmark of a Thinking Environment.

And of course, that's where it gets difficult to facilitate. Because however clearly one explains the purpose and the process, people's tendency is to offer advice; sometimes advice disguised as a question, and sometimes advice disguised as an anecdote. But the problem with advice is that it is likely to be either accepted or rejected (and that may be more to do with the temperament of the presenter, the relationship, and perceptions of wisdom etc than the quality or relevance of the advice itself...) - and in either case, that is less stimulating of genuine independent thinking.

So what I am trying to do, is to get people to notice the advice that they are tempted to give; and then to look behind it, to think about the experiences that inform that advice, and share one of those experiences instead; without adding (implicitly) '... and the moral of this story is...' In that way, I hope, the presenter will be able to consider the anecdote, and draw whatever learning is appropriate from it.

For completeness, the final stages of the process are the presenter feeding back what he or she is taking from the process and is going to do as a result; and then (this being a thinking environment) some appreciation of the presenter by all present.

One of the participants on one of my workshops pointed out how similar this process is to Action Learning; and indeed it is. It is noteworthy that both Reg Revans and Nancy Kline draw on the Quaker tradition to inform their work.

However, there are also differences: one is that the focus in Action Learning (at least as Reg Revans established it) is on group members asking insightful questions, to help the problem owner think differently about the issue and gain new insights (and these questions are answered in the presence of the group); whereas in the Council, experience and ideas are shared (normally prohibited in Action Learning) and any questions are taken away, not answered in live time. I think Nancy’s view is that this maintains the independence of the thinker better (though one could question that).

Another difference is that a Thinking Council is a one-off event for the benefit of one individual; whereas Action Learning is typically a series of meetings at which each participant presents and receives help. In Action Learning, there is quite a strong emphasis on reporting back on actions taken at second and subsequent meetings; there is no such requirement in the Council, and I think that is because it could be seen as infantilising, and therefore diminishing of the individual’s freedom to think independently.  Action Learning is designed as a long-term learning process (as well as a way to work on difficult issues) whilst the Thinking Council is designed to help someone to think better about an immediate issue in the short term.

As you will gather, my thinking and practice here is very much work in progress: I may well blog further on this as I learn more.


With thanks to Christina @ and Leon for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Friday 16 April 2021

Your Brain at Work


A few weeks ago I blogged about David Rock's SCARF model. At that time, as I said, I hadn't read his book, Your Brain at Work, which introduces the model.  I am now reading it; and whilst I have not yet finished it, I can highly recommend it. In the first place, that's because my friend and colleague, Deiric McCann at Genos recommends it, and he is nobody's fool.  But also I have now read enough of it to vouch for it myself. It is well-researched, very readable, well-written and very practical.

The subtitle of the book gives some good clues about its scope: Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long. And of course, the title gives another big clue.

What Rock has done, is pull together a coherent understanding of a broad range of research into the brain, and create a user's guide. 

He presents it as a series of fictional case studies: a day in the life of Emily and Paul, broken into short scenes that illustrate the problems they encounter in a fairly typical, stressy, day at work. After each scene, he reviews the relevant research and how it might apply to the situation that Paul or Emily has just messed up, and then offers an alternative scene, based on Paul or Emily applying the research intelligently to manage how they use their brain to inform their behaviour, interactions with others, and so forth.  Each chapter concludes with a summary of the key points (Surprises About the Brain) and some suggestions of Things to Try.

For example at the end of Chapter One, which is about Overload, the Surprises about the Brain are:

  • Conscious thinking involves deeply complex biological interactions in the brain among billions of neurons 
  • Every time the brain works on an idea consciously, it uses up measurable and limited resource 
  • Some mental processes take up a lot more energy than others 
  • The most important mental processes such as prioritising often take the most effort 
and Some Things to Try are:
  • Think of conscious thinking as a precious resource to conserve
  • Prioritise prioritising, as it's an energy-intensive activity
  • Save mental energy for prioritising by avoiding other high-energy-consuming conscious activities, such as dealing with emails
  • Schedule the most attention-rich tasks when you have a fresh and alert mind
  • Use the brain to interact with information, rather than store information, by creating visuals for complex ideas and by listing projects
  • Schedule blocks of time for different modes of thinking.
And so it goes on: pulling together, in simple, useable, understandable and accessible form a wealth of knowledge and practical applications. Much of this is not new if you have read around the subject; but some is. And having it all presented in such a well-explained and user-friendly way is very valuable. 

The book is divided into four Acts (each of several Scenes, or chapters) as follows: 

Act 1: Problems and Decisions
Act 2: Stay Cool Under Pressure
Act 3: Collaborate with others
Act 4: Facilitate Change

Whilst the Emily and Paul plot can feel a little contrived, it is nonetheless an engaging and most importantly clear and memorable way of illustrating the points that Rock is making.

All in all, this is an excellent and practical introduction to the key domains of Emotional Intelligence: self awareness, self management, awareness of others, and relationship management. 

It's probably helpful to add a link to the website, that has some excellent blog posts, too.