Monday, February 18, 2019

Reframing Spiritual Emergency as Positive Change

 
So if you're experiencing psychospiritual/ transformational crisis, don't assume you're crazy. Tell your story to someone who will listen, an experienced coach or counselor who understands the nature of spiritual transformation. ("Spiritual Emergency: When 911 Can't Help")


In the post from my Out of the Box Self-Coaching Tips blog where the above is cited, I encourage anyone on a path of deepening self-awareness to reframe a rapid, forceful shift in perception as a "good" thing, so it doesn't necessarily become destabilizing.

Anyone helping clients loosen ego bonds, personality patterns, and defenses also needs to be on the alert for spiritual emergencies that may turn us upside down, but also lead to deep, positive change.

These major shifts from "normal" reality may appear in a variety of forms, many of which I've experienced in myself and/or seen in some of my own clients.

Becoming more familiar with the deep changes that are possible can help you  hold steady when your clients experience one or more of the following:
  1. Powerful sensations of heat and/or energy pulsing through the spine, sometimes accompanied by an embodied sense that "something big is happening -- I don't know what!"
  2. A peak experience, mystical sense of awe, or feeling within profound love.
  3. Awakening of extrasensory perception, including precognition and telepathy, increased occasions of synchronicity or more than usual "coincidences."
  4. Feeling "possessed" by an archetype, a heretofore unknown and unfamiliar persona.
  5. An initiatory crisis, the sense of self as a "wounded healer" -- facing into our deepest wound to receive its blessing.
  6. Experiencing what we commonly know as "the dark night of the soul," a sense of something dying and not knowing what's on the "other side," even questioning one's own sanity.
  7. Similar to a peak experience but a more profound feeling of being at the center of or part of the cosmos.
What first brings confusion and fear can lead to profound healing. Spiritual emergency "shatters your entire world only to rebuild it again. It occurs because it is time for the individual to awaken."

If you're interested in a personal assessment or to delve further into these concepts, check out The Questionnaire Measurement of Spiritual Emergency (scroll through to Appendix).

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A "Clean" Sweep

Over a period of years David Grove identified questions that would least influence clients in their metaphorical journey, hence the term 'Clean Language'. Carol Wilson, "Metaphor and Symbolic Modeling for Coaches."
Even though metaphors are commonplace in everyday language, we sometimes miss their potential to open doors that logic and its accompanying censors keep firmly locked. Think about it. If logic ruled the day, you could simply say "I'm going to stop feeling defensive when someone criticizes me" or "I want to lose 15 pounds" and voila! It's done. Just as our unconscious patterns and resistances defy logic from their right-brain location, they can also be accessed and transformed with metaphor. 

It's really fun to follow a client's metaphor and see where it leads. And I've found that people will accept suggestions they might otherwise find strange or silly, if presented with confidence. So, for example, when I asked a client about her loneliness, she said it was like being stranded on a desert island. Dropping assumptions about my role as 'helper,' I followed her into her own metaphor, trusting that her internal resources would lead us somewhere healing. (It's a long story, but a key player was a talking bird, a guide neither of us could have anticipated.)

If you come into metaphor play with your own worldview, make assumptions about what clients 'see' in their metaphors, and take them where YOU think they should go, this negates their experience and dismisses the potential for their own solutions. Psychologist David Grove suggested that metaphors are not only symbolic of a problem but also contain clues to solutions. He developed questions he called "clean," meaning they don't engage a cognitive process but rather keep clients in relationship with their own metaphors.

Angela Dunbar's article, "Using Metaphors With Coaching," will give you a good start with Clean Language. The first question is always "What would you like to have happen?" and clients are typically in a logical, left-brain mode, as my client was when she said she wanted to feel connected instead of lonely. So it may take a while for a metaphor to arise, but soon, as you follow the client's lead, a whole metaphorical landscape begins to appear.

Here are a few examples of clean questions and content taken from a session of about 30 minutes. I'll use the word "bird" to represent my client's metaphor (one of many before she became aware of a voice, which then became a talking bird):
  1. To develop awareness: "What kind of voice is that voice?" or "Whereabouts is that voice?" or "Is there anything else about that voice?"  (She 'sees' a bird landing next to her.)
  2. To understand the bigger picture: "Then what happens?" or "What happens just before?"  or "Where could that bird have come from?" (She says it's a talking bird that comes from the ship she sees in the distance.)
  3. To explore relationships and connections: "And is there a relationship between that talking bird and feeling connected?" or "And when the bird talks to you what happens to feeling connected?" (She says when she reaches the ship she'll be connected, and the bird is telling her how to reach the ship.)
  4. To find out how the goal can be reached: "What needs to happen for you to feel connected?" or "And can that connection happen?" (The client at first says she has no way to get to the ship, she can't swim that far; but eventually the bird tells her how to build a raft and she is able to do that.)
A complete session is very much in flow and may move between questions, as new metaphors and even new goals appear. 

Have fun!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Implicit and Covert Factors in Contracting

On Monday, January 7, 2019, my dear friend and mentor on my PhD committee at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Leonard Oseas, passed away. In tribute to Len I want to explain how he changed the way I think.

My dissertation explored "The Status Dimension in Helping Relationships" with a focus on O.D. (organizational development) consulting, where "consultants have been perplexed by the difficulty in achieving collaborative relationships with clients." O.D. clients typically work in hierarchical organizations based on an authority structure, and are not necessarily used to collaborating.

The desired outcome from the consultant's perspective is for clients to be able to solve their own problems, and social science theory suggests this can only be brought about through consultant/client collaboration.

However, my research suggested that "collaboration is difficult to achieve because it runs counter to social structure, to role expectations, and to personality characteristics that elicit dominance-submission. Collaboration as a value tends to lead consultants to insist on collaboration, which reinforces their dominance.  Furthermore, this communication ('You will collaborate') is paradoxical to clients. If they 'collaborate' by going along with the consultant, they will be praised for in fact doing as they are told; if they choose not to collaborate they will be negatively labeled ('resistance') for self-initiated action. No wonder our clients seem confused!"

From the pages of my dissertation featuring Oseas' unpublished manuscript, "Implicit and Covert Factors in Contracting," University of Cincinnati, 1976:

"...it is Shapiro's hypothesis that at the implicit level the 'child' of each makes a primary contract with the 'parent' of each. 
Issues of power and influence become very central in the actual human contracts formed, despite the legal, business or social forms of these contracts. (Shapiro, 1968: 175)
"On the above point Oseas goes so far as to say:
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the helping contract cannot be an agreement between equals... When it is based on the unequal distribution of expertise, a relationship of legitimate dependency on the more expert member is both fair and sensible (p. 3).
"Oseas attributes this 'fair and sensible' inequality to the natural feelings of inadequacy and self-recrimination accompanying the decision to seek professional help. In part, then, he sees the obstacles to achieving parity as arising from client characteristics. In citing the O.D. literature on contracts, Oseas observes the stated desire to make the terms of the consultant-client agreement explicit, guaranteeing against the abuse of  authority. He points out, however, that not all matters important to the agreement can be made explicit, some being only dimly perceived as relevant and others being so deeply ingrained as to be nonnegotiable.

"In the context of norms and values, Oseas discusses the impact of disparities between consultant and client. The consultant values openness, risk-taking, emotional expressivity, and collaboration, toward which the client's reservations are likely to remain unexpressed. Thus a given of the implicit contract 'to which the client's diffidence appears to be giving tacit approval' is that 'faulty norms will invariably be found at the root of the client's difficulties' (p. 10). The terms of this implicit contract would require the client's norms to be relinquished in favor of the consultant's, a difficult contract to be fulfilled:
... compliance... would require them to discard behavior that is habitual and constantly reinforced; that stabiliizes their organizational world; that has the sanction of authority in the organization; that earn them meaningful rewards; and ths is a condition of their being members-in-good-standing of the groups that matter to them (p. 11).
"Oseas concludes that collaboration of these two 'systems' requires that each maintain its integrity. The explicit terms of the contract must, therefore, be perceived as consistent with the ingrained habits and beliefs of each."

*     *     *
Conversations with Dr. Leonard Oseas that expanded my thinking about how best to consult with clients have influenced my entire career and every coaching book I've written. So, Len's ideas about implicit and covert factors in contracting have been published.

Evocative Coaching

For years I searched for an alternative to describing my work as "life coaching." There seem to be zillions of people calling themselves life coaches, from Tony Robbins (I can never be that tall) to Gretchen Rubin (I'll never write a book called "Happier at ______"). That doesn't mean I don't admire success, or scads of money, but I do wonder if the "better" life some coaches promise belongs to the maya category (all is illusion). Efforts, in other words, to satisfy clients' egos.

Then I read that after Bill Clinton's first (or second, or third) major disappointment in the Presidency, he held a staff retreat facilitated by Marianne Williamson, Tony Robbins (yep), and Jean Houston. Williamson is said to have a quiet demeanor, but picture Houston and Robbins together: Clash of the Titans! Don't know; wasn't there. What did strike me as hilariously theatrical was Houston's self-description, also shared in an interview with Oprah Winfrey:
"I would call myself an evocateur of the possible, and a midwife of souls." Dr. Jean Houston.
Sometimes my laughter and immediate rejection of an idea are defenses against taking a risk. Sure enough, I couldn't stop thinking about evocateur. Too grandiose, too foreign, too too... yet somehow edgy and intriguing. Out of curiosity I played around at the online Thesaurus and Dictionary. 

As expected, life coaches are described as "helping people to make changes in their lives, to learn new ways of coping, and to function at their maximum potential." Ho hum. Some synonyms: expert, consultant, guide, counselor, mentor, partner, confidant... and in a lighter mode, kibitzer. At the more directive end, I like buttinski. 

Evocateur doesn't appear in either source, but I found evocator and this is my synthesis: 
"Through artistry and imagination, evocators call forth a vision of transformed reality, elicit passion, and summon others into action."
The synonyms for evocator tend to derive from prophet, including predictor, forecaster, oracle, reader, diviner, clairvoyant, seer, soothsayer, and witch. I admit to all, on occasion.

Following this thread, I googled evocateur. The first hit was Jean Houston's site, where this description expands on my synthesis above:
"The times of great change and remarkable opportunity are upon us... we can no longer go it alone, but must partner... to share innovative and creative ways in which to rethink and restructure our individual existence within the context of our expanding global communities. To do this requires a heightened awareness, an awakened sense of purpose, and a dedicated commitment to actively seek out the possible."
Evocateur went too far for me, but more and more I liked the intimations of evocator and coined (I thought) evocative coaching. I found only one use of the term in Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, a "teacher-centered, no-fault, strengths-based approach to performance improvement."

I work the same way, based on consciousness (self-awareness), connection (high- trust relationships), competence (celebrate clients' abilities), contribution (honor client's input), and creativity (openness to change, in a flow state).

These authors use "flow state" as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl. If you want to quote me quoting them, remember that Csikszentmihalyl is pronounced, more or less, cheek-sent-me-high.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Leading with Integrity: A Workshop for Women

(Co-developed with Mary Pierce Brosmer -- poet, teacher, founder of Women Writing for (a) Change)
The model of an ordinary successful life that is held up for young people is one of early decision and commitment... that launches a single, rising trajectory... these assumptions have not been valid for many of history's most creative people, and they are increasingly inappropriate today... Composing a life involves a continual re-imagining of the future and reinterpretation of the past to give meaning to the present, remembering best those events that prefigured what followed. (Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life)
The purpose of this racially integrated women's leadership retreat was twofold:
  1. To highlight the common root of "integrity" and "integration" -- honoring leadership as a balance of creative, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional qualities.
  2. To model for younger, less experienced women that leadership can be learned and each leadership style has gifts and opportunities for growth.
"Generating my own words, listening to those of many women," wrote my co-leader Mary Brosmer in a pre-reading, "I am changed each moment."

The following objectives were listed in our brochure:
After completing the workshop, you will be able to:
  • utilize writing as a tool for self-exploration,
  • engage in techniques to help you better integrate your inner life and outer action,
  • use the Enneagram to better understand your own and others' leadership styles,
  • develop action plans to help you effectively lead with integrity,
  • address your personal areas of interest about being an effective leader.
We started the retreat by asking participants to form a circle as we introduced the theme of uniting reflection and action, quoting from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
Traditionally, human rights movements in the Americas since the 1940s -- those led by Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Los Cofrades in Guatemala, and others -- have relied on the paradigm wherein valuation of inner life and that of outer action are held together as a single thought. These together enable one to make a potent motion in the world. Satyagraha, as Ghandi called it, is the power of oldest knowing and just action woven together... these constitute a trans-psychic truth that fires not just personal action, but more so, calls the soul to action; the fierce, image-making soul. ("Face Into the Wind... Protect the Flame," Charlene Sieg's interview with Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Psychological Perspectives, Issue 18, 1993).
Each women stepped into the circle with the intention to make space for her own hopes of the retreat, as well as what she might receive that is different from what she expected. After an introduction about the power of storytelling to teach us something about our own lives, participants heard from a panel of six women executives, representing six of the nine Enneagram styles. Each member of the panel told a personal story that described a growth opportunity that taught her to be a better leader and a more integrated human being. Women in the audience were asked to note for later discussion, "What one image, phrase, or story struck you in some way, either as something you resonate with or that strikes a dissonant chord in you?"

*     *     *
The women on the panel had met before the workshop with Mary Pierce Brosmer for a writing session. Their stories below are both inspiring and reflective of the pain they experienced in their own growth as leaders.

For Karen, Enneagram style Eight, we read from Elinor Wylie's poem, "Madman's Song:"
Better to see your cheek grown hollow,
Better to see your temple worn
Than to forget to follow, follow,
After the silver horn.
We introduced Karen with a quote from Kathleen Nobel's The Sound of a Silver Horn: "Nobel argues that we have no good female models in our culture's heroic myths. Style Eight's take charge quality seems a natural fit with the heroic. How has this shown up in your life?"

Karen: "As a young manager in a large corporation, I was only the second woman to have a position at this level of responsibility, and I was supervising twelve technicians on several different shifts. I was given no management training and didn't feel comfortable asking for help. Besides, my boss had no personnel skills at all. I was very forthright in my style and not naturally disposed to be sensitive to others. I remember in particular how I laid into a subordinate after only hearing one side of the story from someone else. That was my turnaround as a leader -- the experience of empathy with someone I'd written off!"
*    *    * 
To Alice, Enneagram style Nine, we quoted from Denise Levertov's "Variation on a Theme by Rilke:"
A certain day became a presence to me;
... it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword...
--or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.
"It is our experience with style Nine," we said to Alice (both Marys co-leading the workshop are Nines), "that when we awaken to ourselves it really is a 'wake-up call,' very dramatic and sometimes even scary. Tell us about the experience of awakening to yourself."

Alice: "I was recovering from alcohol addiction and working at A.A. I saw a lot of women in recovery who were looking for a place to live and who had many other barriers to overcome, such as caring for small children on their own. I realized how lucky I was to have economic security and a strong female support group, so I helped form a nonprofit corporation to provide housing for these women. This was very difficult for me. I had to learn how to go out and talk to people about money while NOT succumbing to BIG money -- companies that would have wanted to control what we did. Because I felt a sense of belonging and appreciation for the group I was part of, I was able to become an advocate for women, speaking out in ways I'd never done before." 

*    *    *
Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese," was our introduction to Harriet, the woman on our panel representing Enneagram style One:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting...
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
We reminded the audience (who'd read about the nine Enneagram styles before the workshop) of the message Ones receive as children, that they do have to be "good." Subsequently they carry an internal voice that says they need to be perfect. Of Harriet we asked, "How has the search for the highest quality played out for you?"

Harriet: I was hired away from a successful medical practice to supervise the final stages of development of a cancer drug for a company seeking FDA approval. I felt I could really help make a difference in the world, but was appalled to discover their methods of data collection and coding had been very sloppy. I assumed everyone on my staff would have the same sense of urgency I had to correct these problems, so I took them on a retreat to plan revisions in their protocol. When I came back, I was told by my boss no one wanted to work for me. They felt I'd told them everything they'd done was worthless. I was shocked and hurt, but I realized I needed to find a more inspiring way to help them improve their skills."

*    *    *
"Women with Enneagram style Six often describe how difficult it can be to feel certain of themselves," we said of Nancy. Then we read from Nina Bogin's touching poem about maturing into oneself, "Initiation, II:"
When I walked up the road, the string sack
heavy on my arm, I thought
that my legs could take me anywhere,
into any country, any life...
I climbed the pink stairs, entered
the house as calm and ephemeral
as my own certainty:
this is my house, my key,
my hand with its new lines.
I am as old as I will ever be.
Nancy: "My father was an Episcopal Priest -- actually, he was God in our house! I don't know what his Enneagram style was, but he never asked for help. I guess I was following in his footsteps because I used to operate on the premise that I should have all the answers (I don't) -- other people always looked like they knew what they were doing, so I would just keep on working, hoping I'd figure things out. Then I'd end up blaming my staff when there were problems, thinking they were just making excuses. What changed things for me was having my daughter, who's now almost two years old. I didn't want to just 'punch it out' anymore. I began questioning whether or not I wanted to stay in a leadership role, sought the help of a consultant, and quit trying to do everything by myself."
*    *    *
Margaret, Enneagram style Two, had asked us to read from Mary Oliver's "The Journey" because it had spoken so clearly to her issues:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles
'Mend my life!'
each voice cried...
"How has being a helper aided you in your career?" we asked Margaret.

Margaret: "I'd quit a secure job because I felt burned out. I saw bureaucracies swallowing up money that could have been better used to help the mentally ill. While I was taking a breather, I saw a description of the county's plan for mental health. I wanted to respond but saw it as a mixed opportunity -- I was in a state of panic and self-doubt, knowing my senior colleagues and ex-bosses would not be my peers, knowing no one in her right mind would dare to be this different in the public eye. Yet I really wanted to do it because it was an opportunity to defy all the practices I knew were not working, and the severely mentally ill people who'd been abandoned would benefit. I struggled with whether to ask for the same salary male directors were getting. I also struggled with others' reactions -- they'd say things like, 'Don't take this personally, but this project will never make it!' It took me four years to get equal compensation, and six years to convince myself I knew as much as others in similar positions. At that point, I finally quit worrying that I needed to be more like them and less like myself. From that place I could speak confidently about what I knew, could sit at the table without anger and with mutual respect for our difference."

*    *    *
Darlene: "When I think of myself as a high performer -- Enneagram style Three -- I think of "hoop-jumping." For many, many years it never occurred to me that failure was possible. Of course, I hadn't put myself in situations where failure would be possible! If someone who worked for me wasn't doing the job, I'd fire them and do their job too. Later in my life I realized I'd done this as a child to get love. We lived on a farm and you worked on the farm. Exceptional results were expected by my parents but what was 'exceptional' wasn't defined ahead of time, so I worked extra hard to make sure I got exceptional results. I was finally brought up short when I fell in love with a man, hired him, and then went into my turbo 'do' mode at work and at home until this powder-keg situation blew up. as I tried to figure out what happened I was struck by how automatically I had gone into this 'do' mode. And the frightening part of this realization was the question, 'With all the doing removed, what else is there to love?' Now I'm asking, 'Hello, Self, what are you like?'"

*    *    *

(Stay tuned for the next blog post, describing 
participant experiences and discoveries during this workshop)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

When Your Clients are Moonwalking

Change blindness -- a phenomenon in visual perception where large changes are undetected by the viewer.
I learned about change blindness in an APA Monitor article by Zak Stambor, who wrote, "Distinctive things, things that are unusual, things that are highly salient, don't necessarily draw attention to themselves if you're engaged in some other task."

Here's an example:



How often, when working with corporate clients, have co-workers failed to observe, appreciate, and reinforce changes your clients have made? This failure in perception occurs because others stay focused on the old behaviors instead of the new ones.

In Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram we give the example of Jack, whom his boss Ben had asked me to coach:
Coaching came too late to save Jack's job. He'd made progress learning how to solicit and accept feedback and greatly improved his ability to listen to others instead of always telling stories. He'd achieved more balance when he presented business problems... to work with more details and plan more for potential problems. But senior management still saw Jack as a lightweight and Ben had to let him go.
When our clients' success depends upon others noticing positive changes, we have to show those others what to observe. If the instructions in the above video were changed to "look for the moonwalking bear," that's what everyone would see. Your clients and their new behaviors are the moonwalking bear.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Do I Belong?"

The Instincts Dialogue at this year's Enneagram Global Summit was the most actionable discussion for my coaching practice, exploring the instinctual aspects of the self-preservation, sexual, and social subtypes--"reptilian, biological, unconscious, automatic impulses to survive" (Bea Chestnut), "drives and also sensation, known to the body and important to know what they feel like" (Russ Hudson). My main takeaway was to pay less attention to subtype descriptions and to ask instead, as Hudson suggested, "What's my habitual relationship with this drive?'" 

I've simplified the subtype distinctions as defined by three key questions:
  • Self-Preservation instinct: "Am I safe?"
  • Sexual or One-to-One instinct: "Am I loved?"
  • Social instinct: "Do I belong?"
In my practice, every coaching call in some way addresses one of these questions. We want our clients to find a YES to all three: "I am safe." "I am loved." "I belong." And deeper understanding of a client's instinctual subtype preference will heighten our effectiveness in helping them answer these questions--not with a series of prescriptions but by encouraging them to ask, "What's my habitual relationship with this drive?"

Bea Chestnut offers an inspiring personal example on her web site, with a deep look at her Enneagram Two self-preservation instinct. And we learn from her story that growth arises from staying present, observing ourselves without judgment, becoming conscious of what has been unconscious and automatic:
... I felt something sweep through my entire body--an emotional and energetic recognition that told me he was right. I couldn't argue with him, even though my pride wanted to. If I was really honest with myself, I did feel like I needed protection. I wanted to say I could protect him, but I felt, so clearly, in m body, it wasn't true. So, I went and sat in the group with the other Self-Preservation Twos.
Of special interest to me lately has been the "Do I belong?" question, several of my clients exploring how Enneagram patterns help or hinder connection to the world community--mostly through either political or environmental concerns. As Bea Chestnut said in The Instincts Dialogue, "We've lost touch with the fact that in primitive people, being part of a tribe was essential to survival."

I've been reading about the physiological and neurological aspects of our instinct to be part of a tribe (activating social connectivity via the ventral vagal nerve system in The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, and the effects of social connectivity on gene expression in "The Social Life of Genes"). So where does this curiosity lead me as a coach and mentor? As did Bea Chestnut in her story above, I typically explore the practical aspects of a concept through self-observation:
  • Historically, my one-to-one instinct had been the strongest influence on my Enneagram style Nine patterns ["At Best, bonds with others, supportive of their ideas, gets buy-in through consensus; At Worst, lives too much through another (parent, spouse, boss, friend, client)"].
  • I'd developed some fairly deep self-awareness and found my own agenda in relationships to a much greater degree than previously. Then my aging mother's need for help gave me an advanced course in staying present. During the 17 years of caring for her, our early life relationship dynamics threatened to define the two of us again. Exploring those triggers helped me further loosen the unconscious hold of my one-to-one instinct. 
  • At the same time, my least-preferred social instinct was being further compromised--by increasing responsibilities for Mom (she lived to be 104!), my natural introversion, and--with the burgeoning of the internet--the opportunity to maintain all my interests (phone coaching, reading/writing, painting) almost exclusively within these four walls. 
  • So, along with many of my clients, I've been feeling the pinch of a lack of social connectivity, wanting to be part of a tribe, wanting to feel in my bones, "Yes, I belong," yet also asking What's my habitual relationship with this drive? Noticing when I've stopped myself, and also noticing circumstances that help me to connect--groups of moderate size, groups where the discussion is centered on something I want to learn, groups where there's no pressure to speak but interaction is facilitated, groups whose members share my most fervent beliefs.
  • One step at a time.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Play Within the Play

(from Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram)

The coaching relationship is a mini-laboratory for breakthroughs. Whatever inner dynamics brought your clients to coaching will most assuredly be acted out with you. And don't forget you have your own habits of attention. Always ask yourself if you're behaving in ways that help or hinder your clients' growth. Be aware that how you interact with them makes a big difference in their progress.

For example:
  • Clients with Enneagram style Three seek approval from outside themselves. They typically list their accomplishments during each coaching meeting. Will you reinforce that in-the-box behavior by approving or will you help them see this habitual behavior as it occurs with you?
  • Clients with Enneagram style Six seek authority and then challenge it. Will you be caught in this pattern? Will you let them turn you into an authority or will you comment if you see the pattern?
  • Clients with Enneagram style Nine rely on others to provide structure. If you ask a probing question and find these clients somewhat confused, will you jump in with a suggestion or will you be patient and encourage them to start anywhere--an arbitrary choice, a set of alternatives, or even a list of what they do not want to do?
Those you coach will approach potential breakthroughs either as frightening ventures into the unknown or as potent explorations. How they move forward rests in the quality of your coaching. Transformational coaching requires you to:
  1. be receptive, provide a safe harbor, listen deeply and with empathy, 
  2. take a stand for your shared vision and challenge their self-limitations [this is especially important when they (or you) are most discouraged].
This quality of coaching requires devotion to your own transformation. As you learn about your Enneagram style, you can use your gifts more consciously and observe how your own patterns limit both of you. Then you can allow whatever occurs in the coaching relationship to be data for discussion.

While coaching Jean (Enneagram style Two), for example, I pointed out her retreat from discussing what she felt as a criticism from me, even though she was clearly upset. Tied to her pattern of focusing on my needs and feelings, she diverted attention away from her own.

After that call Jean wrote me an e-mail saying she felt I'd betrayed her needs (a recurring theme for style Two). She wanted to stop coaching after the next session. My first reaction was defensive. As an Enneagram style Nine I worried I might have been too blunt, not kind enough to Jean. But I managed to stay centered, to not take her attack personally.

In her next coaching session, we were able to discuss the dynamic we'd created and explore how this same pattern showed up in Jean's other relationships. During this discussion I helped her express her needs openly (difficult for style Two). When she tried to move the conversation back to me, I gently pulled her back to her own feelings. Jean subsequently decided to continue with me as her coach.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Using Metaphors in Change Work

For as long as humans have had speech, story-tellers have been respected for how their tales and poems taught and/or entertained. Harvard Business School guru John Kotter says, "Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves."

There's a time-honored tradition in change work to use stories for healing. A healing metaphor can help clients gain the personal resources and enhanced world model they need to handle their problems. Typically, though, as in the general history of storytelling, the coach decides what story or metaphor will have the greatest effect.

I've used a more client-centered approach, for example with a coach who said she always felt "like the new kid on the block" around her colleagues. I entered her metaphor by saying, "OK, I'm here with you. You've just moved in, and you're the new kid. What's that like? What are the other kids doing? How do they treat you? What are some ways you can get them to include you?" After she answered "They want to play with some of my cool toys!" she realized she had "cool toys" in her current repertoire that helped her feel comfortable with more experienced coaches.

I saw even more possibilities for metaphor work, and attended training in Symbolic Modeling with Gina Campbell. Here, instead of the coach determining the direction, open-ended questions preserve the terminology of clients' metaphors with "clean language," questions that follow the client's lead.

The next time one of your clients offers a metaphor, experiment with being completely spontaneous, playful, nonlinear. Forget about structure, forget about tools from your experience that will "help" or "coach" the person. Simply be present, and see where your client's metaphor leads both of you.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Listen to the Birds

In a powerful example of storytelling, psychologist George Burns met with a mother and her six-year-old daughter, Jessica, who'd been labeled by two psychologists as "an elective mute." Jessica spoke freely and age-appropriately at home, but would not utter a sound to anyone outside her family.

While Jessica sat on the floor drawing, Dr. Burns told her mother a story from his own childhood about a boy named Billy who was teased by the other children for his silence:
"That day the door of the cupboard at the back of the classroom was ajar and a feather duster protruded through the gap. As we filed into class, Billy's eye fell on the protruding feathers and, without thinking, he exclaimed, 'Sir, there's a hen in the cupboard!' Everyone laughed, and after that Billy spoke."
At this point Jessica handed Dr. Burns a drawing of a bird and told him it was "Tweetie."

"Who's Tweetie?" he asked.

"My canary."

Both Dr. Burns and Jessica's mother were stunned. He was the first adult Jessica had ever spoken to outside her family. "The empowerment for her to change an established pattern of behavior," he concluded, "had come not just through a story, but through one told so indirectly that it was apparently being communicated to someone else."

Stories aren't just for children. A good teaching tale can reach your clients at both conscious and unconscious levels a right-brain "zing" along with a left-brain "aha."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Change Blindness

I recently tuned in to a discussion among coaches of assessment results for a client whose profile indicated he knew he was charming and likeable, but lacked depth of detail and follow-through. In spite of his self-awareness, I was concerned about his future in that company. His low ratings among peers and senior management suggested he's seen as  a "lightweight," a perception that can be very difficult to change, no matter how effective the coaching or how committed he is to balancing his influence style. I've seen change blindness on more than one occasion:
How many times have you made what felt like significant changes and no one noticed? How often, when working with clients, have co-workers or friends and family failed to observe, appreciate, and reinforce changes? This blindness occurs because others' ability to perceive something new is hampered by what they think they already know. This is often such an unconscious process they might not acknowledge their own change blindness (yep, denial of change blindness is called "change blindness blindness"). 

In a follow-up data-gathering session for a client who'd made significant changes in the previous six months, he and I pondered the fact that others I interviewed were highly focused on some problems from months earlier, even though I specifically asked them how this person is different in the present. 

A way around this phenomenon is to set clients up for success by coaching them to engage others in the process:  
“These are three specific behaviors you'll see that are different for me, and please, when you see me behaving in these new ways, tell me so I'll know I’m on the right track.” 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Three Motivational Styles

According to the theories of David C. McClelland, we all draw to some degree from each of three motives, but one will be predominant and may reinforce our habitual way of operating. We initially respond best to the approach that fits most closely with our dominant motive. However, if you're in a managerial or coaching relationship, you could unwittingly strengthen a motive that's not in the person's best interest. For example, if someone constantly looks to you for approval and you give it, that person will be satisfied but continue to rely on you for approval, and won't develop independent standards. 

AFFILIATION MOTIVE – Being with others, expressing feelings and ideas, and getting others' approval. People primarily motivated by affiliation are often friendly and work best when they feel appreciated and their work environment gives them the opportunity to interact with others. This motivation is reinforced and maintained by providing work where cooperation with co-workers is required, time for personal interaction is encouraged, and team building efforts are valued. Positive feedback that's not specific will satisfy and/or develop peoples' affiliation motive because it lets them know they're liked and accepted, but will not develop their achievement or power motive. 

ACHIEVEMENT MOTIVE – Standards of excellence are clear, with opportunity to set goals and perform successfully against those standards (includes problem-solving about how to overcome obstacles to performance). People primarily motivated by achievement are usually competitive and work well independently. This motivation is reinforced and maintained by providing challenging work that stretches capabilities, along with concrete standards for success and clear, unambiguous feedback. Specific and descriptive feedback will provide people with a tool to satisfy and/or develop their achievement motive because it allows them to set their own goals and give themselves feedback about the degree to which the goals were accomplished. 

POWER MOTIVE – Impact the surrounding environment; persuade and/or influence others.  People primarily motivated by power usually have an interest in moving up in an organization and are often fluent in their communication style. This motivation is reinforced and maintained by allowing personal control over work pace and methods, as well as opportunities to influence – especially if they can deal directly with people higher in the organization. Encouraging peoples' involvement in problem solving and decision making will satisfy and/or develop their power motive because it gives them influence over their work and other people.   


Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Enneagram: A Compelling Vision

Susan Olesek's TED talk on behalf of the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP), Both Sides of the Bars, is the most compelling Enneagram presentation I've ever seen, for her own transparency, for her clarity and vision, for her compelling examples, for her intelligent presentation, and most of all for the power of her presence. This is the finest example of how life-changing the Enneagram can be in the hands of someone on an authentic spiritual journey.  See also this Forbes article abour Olesek's work.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Donald Duck Cure

Building on Stories that Change People, the following is an example of a paradoxical intervention (encouraging clients to exaggerate a behavior).

Greg had been promoted to management as a reward for his technical know-how. Creative and bright, he was experienced at resolving problems by himself and had no models for how to encourage others. In particular, instead of coaching team members in private Greg criticized them openly in team meetings. They had recently been his peers, and found this humiliating.

When I gave Greg this feedback, he understood why they felt embarrassed, but insisted he had no control over his behavior: "It just comes over me!"

Knowing how much he loved his young daughters, I asked if the same thing happened with them. "No," he replied, "they're really fun to be around and easy to teach. I love playing with them and showing how things work." He said their happiest times were spent watching Saturday morning cartoons together.

I asked Greg to look for a cartoon that depicted aggressive behavior, "putting someone down" and we'd talk about it in our next session. I expected coyote and road-runner, but Greg described Donald Duck's nephews building a snowman at the bottom of a hill, only to have Donald zoom down on his sled and break up the snowman, laughing (quacking) and laughing (quacking). After several attempts, the nephews built a snowman around blocks of cement. This time when Donald ran into the snowman, he was flattened and stars appeared over his head (in that fun way of cartoons).

"So, Greg," I suggested, "since you can't stop criticizing team members at meetings, just keep on doing what you're doing, but take a second as you deliver the message to imagine yourself as Donald Duck quacking to his nephews."

His problem behavior spontaneously disappeared.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Coaching: An Inside Job

Take this to heart as a coach: change always occurs. You can influence and accelerate that process. Give yourself time and appreciation as you try out suggestions below that may be new to you – and remember to have fun. 

My approach to coaching is not always linear. I use examples, stories, symbolic behaviors, and metaphors. The following three principles can inform your work no matter what coaching model you follow:
Acknowledge and Validate the Client's Worldview: Transformational change is more likely to occur in a coaching relationship where there's deep rapport – where clients feel known. Accessing their inner worlds gives you both insight and compassion. Paradoxically, they'll be more open to change when they feel accepted exactly as they are. Once they have that assurance, you can help them recognize and change patterns of behavior based on subconscious, outmoded beliefs.

Help Shift That Worldview: Most people will come to you having tried to avoid or overcome something they don't like about themselves. That approach tends to block positive energy. In contrast, your clients will release energy for change when they learn to observe their patterns of thought and behavior without judgment. Such compassionate self-awareness may be enough to support spontaneous changes. In addition, there are many inventive, even playful ways to help them alter the patterns they observe.

Focus on Solutions, Tapping Their Resources, Experience, and Ideas: Sometimes a solution focus means merely encouraging more of what works. It can also mean framing the problem in the past and the solution in the present or future. Change occurs when a problem is specific enough that it can be solved, when it's seen as a positive vision for the future.
These principles are spelled out with examples in the last chapter of my coaching book. As I've mentored coaches over the years, I've also found it helps to have a concrete, how-to summary. The table below summarizes the components of coaching for transformational change. 

Skill                               Definition                                        Notes

1. Develop rapport          Acknowledge and
                                     validate client's worldview
                                     without judgment or
                                     prescription; share human
                                     to human responses.

2. Hold enlightened        Reflect second-order changes
    vision                        that occur in interaction
                                     with you.

3. Presuppose                Make statements that embed
    positive outcomes      a positive expectation,
                                     assume a desired change. 

4. Teach self-                Show clients how to observe
    observation               patterns without judgment;
                                    reinforce evidence of 
                                    neutrality and change. 

5. Use possibility           Restate problems in the past,
    language                   solutions in the present
                                    and/or future. 

6. Focus on                   Elicit brief problem description;
    solutions                   ask how solution will look
                                    (videospeak); find exceptions
                                    to the problem, ask how they
                                    do it, do more of what works;
                                    if no exceptions, create
                                    achievable steps as fieldwork. 

7. Help shift from          Identify the "X" and "Y" that are
    either/or to              apparently incompatible.
    both/and                  Explore existing parameters.

    thinking                    Ask "How can you do both 
                                    X and Y?"

8. Honor "resistance"     Use everything that happens
    as energy for             as grist for the mill, including
    change; stay in          all blocks, tasks not done,
    in flow                      relapses, etc.

9. Use right-brain          Engage clients through
    tactics                      stories, metaphors, humor,
                                    spontaneity, inventiveness,
                                    playfulness; bypass logic's
                                    censors.

10. Invent ground-        Co-create fieldwork that
     breaking field-         breaks old patterns with
     work                        new responses; take them
                                    to their edge (doing
                                    anything different, how-
                                    ever small, can promote
                                    significant change).

11. Make process           Comment on interactions
     observations             with you as source of
                                     learning about patterns.