Friday 29 October 2021


 Reflecting on the Practice Framework I've been developing, I recognise that one of my weaker areas (or development areas, as I suppose I should label it) is Evaluation. It is all too easy, at the end of the assignment, to accept the thanks fo the coachee, and move on to the next thing.   But that is scarcely the way to excellence...

One of the things that my framework makes explicit is the link between contracting and evaluation.  That is, I think that the contracting, at the start of the assignment should include an agreement about how we will evaluate it at the end; which will clearly include the coachee's evaluation as well as the coach's, of course; but might also include other stakeholders. 

Naturally, that may develop over the time of the coaching, as new goals emerge; but that is simply another reason to keep re-contracting periodically during the relationship.

One of the challenges I have found in evaluating coaching, is that sometimes the coachee is truly delighted, and yet I feel that it could have gone better.  Perhaps that is not surprising: if it is the coachee's first experience of coaching and it has delivered value, then that is good. But having some experience and expertise in the matter may mean that I have higher standards.

And that leads to another reflection: perhaps the emphasis in what we evaluate should be different.  The coachee is best placed to evaluate the content of the coaching: the learning, its application, and the difference that has made. He or she may well have comments about the coaching process, of course, and these are often valuable too.  But they are naturally made from a less informed position.

Whereas I have some expertise about process: I know what I have decided good coaching looks like (for me): hence this practice framework. Whereas I am actually less well-placed to judge the learning and the impact of the coaching; though of course, I will have a view.

So, as so often with my blogging, this is work in progress: I will continue to work on Evaluation as part of my professional practice, and see if these reflections are helpful.  And in due course, I may report back in another blog post.


No images this week, as Blogger seems to be playing up!

Friday 22 October 2021

Towards a practice framework

 I have been thinking further about the notion of a practice framework for my coaching work (a phrase I found in Hewson & Carroll's book about which I have blogged previously.

This is linked to my reflections on Sandwiches (in another, more recent blog).

In essence, I am trying to map what I believe the essential elements of good coaching are, at least as I see them. The point of this, of course, is to keep learning and improving; as well as to prevent back-sliding from how I am when working at my best.  It informs my reflective practice and my conversations with my supervisor.

And of course, that is the other use for it: when supervising other coaches. My ideal would be for them to articulate their practice framework for themselves; but having mine as a starting point may facilitate that.  And the point is to ensure that over a series of supervisory conversations, as well as addressing whatever arises from the specific issues they bring to supervision, we also review all aspects of their practice in a comprehensive way. Much of that will be done in response to the issues that they bring to supervision; but it may be that something like evaluation never arises in that context.  So I think that there is real value in  having a map somewhere that we can re-visit from time to time, to check if there is anything we have not talked about.

This is, of course, a work in progress: and I'll be interested in any suggestions others may have to improve it.


I've added something about stakeholder and system understanding to the 'supported by' list...  (always a bit of a blindspot for me...)

Friday 15 October 2021

Coaching in a Thinking Environment - and the power of not interrupting

 I have blogged a lot, over the years, about the Thinking Environment and my musings on it. I thought, this week, it might be interesting to reflect on a particular coaching session, and how conducting it in a Thinking Environment, as opposed to 'normal' coaching was different - both for me and for the individual I was coaching.

I started the session by reminding the coachee that the purpose of the session was to give him the time, space, support and challenge to think further than he usually had the chance to do, about anything (relevant to the coaching) that he chose. I mentioned that we would reserve the last 15 minutes or so to pull together the threads, recognise any learning or insights, catch any actions planned etc.  And apart from that, I would listen, and only ask questions when he told me that he had come to the end of a wave of thinking; and that whilst I would be happy to share any perspectives of my own, if he wanted me to do so, that would only happen after he had taken his own thinking as far as he could.  

This was a first session with this individual, so I made it clear we would run this as an experiment: if it worked, we could do something similar next time; if not, we could do something different. That was a way of giving him permission to give honest feedback about the process at the end of the session; and also helping him recognise that it might feel unusual: it was an experiment, after all! I checked he was OK with that, and then I invited him to think: 'What do you want to think about; and what are your thoughts.' And he thought.

As ever, it was really interesting; and as ever, it sparked off numerous thoughts in my own head - questions I could ask, models that might shed light on his experience, similar situations I had encountered with others, and so on.

In fact, I noticed seven times when I was on the verge of offering my contribution, as he paused between waves of thought.  And each time, I decided not to, in order to honour our initial agreement. So instead, I remained silent and he started to think again.  A couple of times, he asked me for another question ('What more do you think, or feel, or want to say?...') to get his thinking going again. 

After about an hour and ten minutes, he stopped, having resolved one substantial issue, and also a second, not-quite-so-weighty, one. He then asked for my reflections. I mentioned that a few things had gone through my head, but there were just two that I wanted to share with him at that stage. So I shared those, and he found them useful.

We then reviewed the learning and what actions he was going to take, and finally reviewed the process. He was surprised at how effective it had been, but had some lingering curiosity over what I had thought but not said. So after the session, I emailed him a list of the things that had gone through my head.  Somehow it looked less desperately urgent (and dare I say it, less impressive) than when I had been feeling that strong urge to interrupt.  He came back to me for more detail on a couple of the points that had particularly resonated or interested him.

So that is how (or at least one way) to coach in a Thinking Environment. It is interesting for me to reflect on how strong the urge to interrupt can be. After all, what benefit is he getting from me as a coach if I withhold my wisdom. And I am sure that I was right not to do so, as he reached his own resolution without me; and moreover, was able to have the benefit of my thinking in addition, after the session. 


With thanks to Girl with red hat  and Laurenz Kleinheider for sharing their photos on Unsplash

Friday 8 October 2021

Adrenaline or peace?...

A few conversations this week have got me asking myself questions about the role of adrenaline in our lives, and our response to it.

One was a discussion about the component of ease in a Thinking Environment.  A colleague said that adrenaline is always detrimental to good thinking. 

I nodded along: that seemed sensible to me. I have experienced many times the powerful effect of a Thinking Environment, not least that component of ease, in helping me to think deeply and (of course) wisely about difficult or complex issues.

But on reflection I am not so sure. It's that word always that bothers me.  I tend to be wary of absolute statements, as I actually believe in absolutes...  

So I am wondering about the role of adrenaline in the context of physical emergencies or crises. I think firefighters, soldiers etc may well need the advantages that adrenaline offers as they go into action, and wonder if it is true that the price they pay for that is cognitive impairment.

Other conversations included issues like needing to be busy to feel as though you are accomplishing anything, or to keep the demons of rumination at bay. 

Here I reflect on the Eisenhower (Urgency/Importance) grid, and how many people spend a lot of time dealing with urgent issues (almost regardless of importance) at the expense of important issues that are not (or not yet) urgent.  In my thinking (and indeed experience) dealing with Important issues before they are urgent, by deliberate planning and choice, is a route to peace.  

Which raises the interesting question, are some people uneasy with peace? Is it too boring? Whereas adrenaline-stimulating crises are certainly interesting.  Which reminds me of something I wrote some years ago: working to a tight deadline triggers a release of adrenaline, (the fight or flight response), followed shortly afterwards by cortisol (which focuses us on the immediate crisis and therefore inhibits serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine). That results in us feeling lack-lustre, so we need more adrenaline to feel alive again.

I will continue to reflect on this (though not, I trust, ruminate) as I think I still have unanswered questions.  Fortunately, my job as coach doesn't require me to have the answers, just some great questions to get people thinking.


With thanks to Fabian Jones for sharing this photo on Unsplash

Sunday 3 October 2021


The latest attempt to de-criminalise assisted dying is making its way through the parliamentary process, with a Second Reading in the House of Lords later this month.

Whilst I recognise the very real issues that it seeks to address, I think that here, as in other arenas, hard cases make bad law.

My objections to changing the law in this way are many, both theoretical and practical.  At a theoretical level, I think it problematic as it is based on an assumption that we can know the future: and in fact, we cannot. In this case, the law presumes that we can know that someone is going to die within six months ('is reasonably expected to die within six months.') Further, it assumes that we (and in particular the individual concerned) knows that their condition will only get more unendurable over that period. 

Here I reflect on the relatively recent death of my mother-in-law. Some years ago, she was bed-ridden, and her continuing pain, allied to the ineffectiveness of drugs, and her mental state of misery, made me really think hard about this issue. Was it fair that people like her should suffer because people like me had doubts about euthanasia? 

But what happened over the last few years of her life was astonishing, and unpredictable. She decided to forego the drugs, and to manage her pain as best she could, on her own terms, by relaxing etc. It was astonishing. She found a peace and sense of tranquility in her last years that had eluded her for (at least) the last few decades. Had she had the choice to end her life earlier, she might well have taken it (not least as she hated the thought that she was a burden on her daughter). But had she done so, she would never have found that final peace.

Of course, that is only one story: but it is a story that illustrates that we don't know what the future holds and we are rash to presume that we do.

And there are other concerns, too, of course. These issues are always framed in terms of the individual - understandably enough, for it is the individual who is suffering. But it is not the individual alone whom such a change in our legal system would affect. Doctors, in particular, would be changed by this. That fundamental orientation to looking after the life and well-being of their patients would be undercut, and so would patient trust, I suspect. Elizabeth Jennings' poem, which I quote below, picks up this theme.

There is also the issue of the patient's family. What pressures might they be under, what pressures might they put the patient under, what regrets might they experience?...

And there's the broader societal impact. At present, we see life as precious. Nobody can take another's life, and we work hard to stop people from taking their own. We know, for example, that in the vast majority of cases, people who are prevented from committing suicide, or rescued from suicide attempts, do not go on to kill themselves later: they realise they are better off alive. But not in every case, of course; the trouble is we (and they) cannot know in advance which are the exceptions. 

We have even decided as a society that we will not take the lives of the most dreadful criminals. The finality of taking someone's life is so absolute, the instinct against it so strong, and the consequences of error are so terrible. But introducing Euthanasia breaks that compact: no longer is life so sacred as all that...

There is also the real risk of a slippery slope. Of course the way the initial legislation is drafted is very tight. Of course, it is only for a small number of extreme cases.  And so on.  Yet we heard all that in 1967 when the Abortion Bill was being debated: now we have virtual abortion on demand. And if we look around the world, at those countries that have already legalised assisted dying, we see exactly that: the criteria are relaxed, the practice is extended. In the Netherlands, a 1994 study revealed that in 1 in 5 cases, doctors prescribed drugs with the explicit goal of shortening the patient's life without the explicit request of the patient.

Also, it seems to me to be an agenda driven by fear, and that in itself is not a good thing. It is easy to stir up fear, but that is a very unhealthy basis on which to run a society. For myself, I hold hope to be a higher value, and to that end, I would counsel anyone interested in this issue to read Kathryn Mannix's book, With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial. 

Mannix is a palliative care professional of many years' experience, working with the dying and their families. In this book, she tells of many experiences: her main point being that we are in denial about death, and correspondingly ignorant and fearful. If we educate ourselves, by reading her accounts and others, we will find that there is a lot less to fear.   But introduce euthanasia and the work (and funding) that goes in to palliative care are likely to reduce: such has been the experience elsewhere in the world, and we would be naive to assume that we are different.

I return to my earlier question:  is it fair that people should suffer because people like me have doubts about euthanasia? That does seem a fair question; but the opposite question should also be asked: is it right to risk all the harms that people like me envisage, to individuals, families and society at large, by breaching that fundamental principal: thou shalt not kill?


The law's been passed and I am lying low
Hoping to hide from those who think they are
Kindly, compassionate. My step is slow.
I hurry. Will the executioner
Be watching how I go?

Others about me clearly feel the same.
The deafest one pretends that she can hear.
The blindest hides her white stick while the lame
Attempt to stride. Life has become so dear.
Last time the doctor came,

All who could speak said they felt very well.
Did we imagine he was watching with
A new deep scrutiny? We could not tell.
Each minute now we think the stranger Death
Will take us from each cell

For that is what our little rooms now seem
To be. We are prepared to bear much pain,
Terror attacks us wakeful, every dream
Is now a nightmare. Doctor's due again.
We hold on to the gleam

Of sight, a word to hear. We act, we act,
And doing so we wear our weak selves out.
We said "We want to die" once when we lacked
The chance of it. We wait in fear and doubt.
O life, you are so packed

With possibility. Old age seems good.
The ache, the anguish - we could bear them we
Declare. The ones who pray plead with their God
To turn the murdering ministers away,
But they come softly shod.

Elizabeth Jennings