Just at the moment I am close to obsessed with metaphor. As a coach I am increasingly fascinated by words and the meaning of words. I know I use language in ways that may confuse others: I play with words and love puns. However, I am aware that that tendency has to be watched if I am not absolutely certain my client has the same associations for words that I do. Metaphor however, has the ability to transcend many language and cultural barriers. ‘What is that like?’ ‘How would you describe that?’ ‘Are there any images or stories that idea links with?’ These sorts of ‘openers’ even if not all strictly metaphors, frequently lead to images, parables, stories, similes, that allow the conversation to broaden and deepen.
Last evening, on Radio 4 (Oct 27th) I think around 8.30, there was a brilliant talk by Dr. Phil someone who was speaking on the subject of metaphor for medical insight: GPs, trauma supporters and cancer sufferers all spoke about words and images to describe, and alleviate pain. There was also a short section on Clean Language and Jenny Rogers spoke too, about coaching and metaphor. So others out there share my interest. There were also fascinating book references, so I must leap off to the ‘play again’ function on R4 and take sensible notes this time. Just thought you might be interested.
Last week I attended Dan Docherty’s Critical Coaching Research Day in Bristol. I love these sessions: there are wonderful people to meet and ideas to exchange. There were three contributors: Michael Carroll, David Megginson and Janet Keep. Michael described ‘Four Levels of Reflection’, an exceptionally useful session for me since my learning style is rather more action/theory/pragmatism than reflection. Michael’s notes will give me something to refer to and use when I need to reflect in a guided way rather than get absorbed in self-indulgent navel-gazing: the ‘dark side’ of a necessary and useful practice.
David’s contribution was a brief and thought-provoking discussion on the concept of ‘Aliveness’ in coaching. We discussed personal daily rhythms: larks vs owls; the energy levels in the room while coaching – where is the client’s energies and where are our own?; and the different concepts of drive and vitality and how food and rest affects these. Lots to think about, and a measure of balance I had not consciously considered in my own practice.
Janet Keep was the final contributor of the day and she introduced her auto-ethnographical study of the ‘quality of service-to-self’ that she is studying for her doctorate. This was thought provoking and although Janet and I would be on the opposite ends of a very long continuum here, there was much that she mentioned that will provide food for thought for a long time to come. I do wonder though about the usefulness and application of such a personal study: but there’s my innner pragmatist again! However, I have taken away a strong message that failing to take care of myself serves nobody: a valuable lesson for anyone coaching someone on the verge of burnout ….and for any parent who opts for martyrdom rather than a robust and appropriate defence of their own needs. As a friend of mine said recently when listening to a pantheon of woes: ‘do I smell burning flesh?’
‘When I use a word’ said Humpty Dumpty ‘it means what I mean it to mean – no more and no less’. Words are cognitive triggers and with each one comes a plethora of associations. Take this collection for example: teach, train, lecture, discuss, facilitate, mentor, supervise. For each: different behavioural expectations. As coaches, those behavioural expectations are crucial – if we use the wrong word then we set unrealistic or skewed expectations with our clients. If I am going to teach something, then I had better use that word and not another, with different expectations. My current concern is that I label my behaviours appropriately and don’t confuse my clients!