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Coaching is an Art: The Masterpiece of Insight

Authored by: Managing Partner Roger Pearman Ed.D

I reached up to the cloud and asked the great Google Oracle “What topics are essential debates in psychology?”  It’s answer:

  • The Mind-Body Debate
  • Nature vs. Nurture
  • Reductionism vs. Holism
  • Idiographic vs. Nomothetic
  • Psychology as a Science
  • Free-will vs. determinism
  • Gender Issues

According to Psychology Wiki, there are 34,770 pages of information covering issues in psychology from A to Z, including the evidence (pro and con) on the issues being debated. And the fact is that all the topics and debates are “works in progress.”

When someone declares that “such and such” is an empirical fact, we should put that statement in the hypothetical file.  For example, until recently, individuals studying the brain sciences would describe in exacting detail how the synaptic connection between one cell to another was the primary neural pathway.  We now know there is a lot about this statement that simply isn’t true, and I expect with more research in the days ahead, our entire understanding of neurological connectivity will undergo a major revision.

Another claim we read regularly is “research proves that…”, which again should give us pause.  Let’s just agree that there are many research articles representing many opposing views on the same serious and important topics.

Getting to What Matters

When we aggregate research and identify key trends in the evidence, we are standing on firmer ground when we report that certain behaviors (such as behaviors of leaders, managers, individual contributors or teams) result in greater personal and professional effectiveness. If we catalog the behaviors people demonstrate at work, we’ll find that the list is amazingly short.  We could easily split the list into behaviors contributing to performance and those that do not.  And, when we compare our list to rigorous research studies on human performance, we’ll find both significant overlap and a few surprises.

I encourage everyone, in our efforts to promote individual and organization performance, to consider whether we are putting in front of others the information that is well founded and currently known to benefit individuals and organizations, and to use information that leverages the current state of applied brain- and behavior-based research.

The Coach’s Role

As a coach and leadership development facilitator I’m keenly aware that the behavior of those with whom I’m working is subject to these influences:

  • situational pressures/forces
  • learned patterns
  • dispositions
  • meaning-making referent frames, and
  • learning readiness

Let’s consider a manager we might coach who is under enormous pressure at work and at home, has few learned strategies to deal with stress, is predisposed to be hypercritical, sees things in black and white, and isn’t particularly ready to learn. There’s a lot to unpack here. As development professionals our task is to lean into the evidence-based tactics that exist (and realize these are the best working hypotheses) and find the first step for growth.

Coaching and facilitation are arts of synthesis. We have to ask:

  • what do we know?
  • what might we test?
  • what seems most reasonable and helpful? and
  • what unintended consequences should we consider as we work with others?

Our canvas is the conversation we are having with the would-be learner. Our paint palate is made up of the evidence-based practices we rely on and integrate with our experiences. If the “painting” process goes well, a masterpiece of insight provides a lifetime of enrichment.

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