Friday 6 May 2022

The benefits and limitations of models

We had a fascinating CPD event recently at the Coaching Supervision Partnership.  We had decided to explore John Heron's model of interventions, in the context of supervision, and to to that by analysing a live supervision, using the model.

Heron's model, in brief,  suggests that interventions are either Authoritative or Facilitative; and within those two styles, there are three types. Authoritative interventions may be Prescriptive, Informative or Confronting; and Facilitative interventions may be Cathartic, Catalytic, or Supportive.

So one of my colleagues supervised another, with myself and a third observing, using a checklist to record the supervisor's interventions and categorise them accordingly. 

This was an interesting exercise.  For a start, not all interventions were easy to categorise, so rather than the ticks I imagined I would be putting in the various columns, I found I had recorded a series of question marks. But it was also interesting to note that both I and the other observer had seen in the session examples of all six categories of intervention, suggesting a good range of approaches being taken by the supervisor.

But we were all surprised at how few interventions were categorised as supportive; even though we all (and particularly the person being supervised) had felt that it was a very supportive session.

On the plus side, I find models and taxonomies like this helpful: they provide a way of analysing and discussing practice, and in particular spotting patterns, both of usage and omission. For example, many coaches I work with tend very much to the facilitative style, and that is often appropriate.  But it can be helpful to get them to reflect on when a more authoritative approach might be appropriate, and how to gain the skills and confidence to deploy it. 

But there are limitations, of course. One is that looking at an interaction as a series of interventions can cause us to miss the bigger picture: this was a supportive session because of the attention and intention of the supervisor, that was communicated in many subtle ways - but not through a series of 'supportive' interventions. Further, people often experience my approach as challenging; but that is most frequently not because of 'challenging' interventions, but rather because of my use of silence: encouraging people to go further or deeper than their initial responses to questions. Yet this approach might risk missing that aspect completely. 

And, of course, our difficulty in categorising some of the interventions (and indeed our categorising them differently from each other) highlights the problems with describing the subtlety of human interactions in such a reductive way.

Nonetheless, the exercise - and the framework - were valuable, not least as they provoked and enabled a rich conversation about one aspect of our professional practice, and our different approaches to that: not least our different reactions to the benefits and limitations of such models! At least one of us was far less forgiving of its limitations than I was...

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