Wednesday 22 November 2023

Equality in Coaching

When I started coaching, I was courteously deferential. It was, after all, how I had been brought up. And it was not as lame as perhaps it sounds. I established very good working relationships with clients, and that is one of the foundations of an effective coaching relationship.

Nonetheless, as I got more experienced, read more, and did more CPD I understood how important challenge and confrontation can be in the coaching relationship, and worked to develop my skills in those areas, to good effect. In particular, I got good at the challenging question and the long silence; and again that proved useful.

Now, having adopted Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment as a primary approach in most of my coaching, I see my role somewhat differently. I strive to create the conditions in which individuals challenge and confront themselves, their own thinking and emotions, and their assumptions. 

One of the components of the Thinking Environment is Equality. Bearing that in mind, one might criticise my initial style (deferential) as risking putting me in a one-down relationship vis-à-vis my clients.  Likewise my second style (confrontative) might risk my assuming a one-up position (that is also the problem of the wise coach who offers advice, another role that I can find very tempting).

But that also raises the question of whether coaching in a Thinking Environment is really a partnership of equals. Nancy Kline is very clear (eg in More Time to Think) that the purest version of the Thinking Environment is the Thinking Partnership, when each person gives the other a chance to think. And in developing the Mentoring Process, she learned that she needed to include a thinking session for the Mentor, in order for Mentees to feel equal. But in coaching we clearly don't do that.

And then I had one of those flashes of brilliance, for which I am rightly renowned: a blinding flash of the obvious.  Equality need not mean sameness. In this context the equality is in service of clients' learning. So the clients' role is to bring their expertise to bear on the issues they face, knowing themselves, their context and so on far better than the coach can; whilst my role as a coach is to bring my expertise to bear on the process: creating and sustaining the Thinking Environment that will stimulate and support my clients to do their own very best thinking.

Both roles and associated skills are equally important to the success of the session.

So that's all right.

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