Last year Dan Docherty came to a coaching research day at Sheffield Hallam. His topic was ‘limbic coaching’ and after a short tussle with the terminology I had a series of ‘aha’ moments that are still continuing. Dan chucked a largish rock into the pond, asking us to consider, as practising coaches, what happens at the margins: the session where nothing much happens, but where there is a breakthrough moment on the walk back to reception; the time when you wonder if you are pushing too near a boundary – and a crack appears and the light shines through. Edges can be dangerous but they can also be creative and exciting places to be. Senses are heightened in the presence of danger and it a matter of judgement how far to go. Intuition is often the best guide under those circumstances – but only if that intuition has been honed and polished by experience, continuous professional development, and first class supervision.
‘The path to hell is paved with good intentions’. How often does a coach find him or herself working with a client who has acted from the best of intentions, yet fallen foul of the perceptions of others? I might craft a message, but what confidence do I have that you will de-code the message in the way that I intended? Take a recent example: a middle aged man, with no sight in one eye and serious retinal damage in the other, holding down a turbulent job and under attack from all quarters, takes time to write a letter to a bereaved mother. The letter is written in his own hand and is not checked by his office. The penmanship is clumsy; words are misspelled and the impression is poor. The recipient is offended and the tabloids make political capital of the situation. Yet the Prime Minister has taken the time to write a personal letter of condolence and other recipients of similar letters have appreciated the time and effort taken to write such personal notes.
This is a dramatic example of something that coaches work with all the time: helping clients to untangle crossed wires and work on disaster recovery strategies when actions that they have taken explode in their faces. A good coach works with clients to help them to understand both ends of the communication channel: transmitter and receiver. I should not send a message without a good idea of who is to receive it. I would not craft a key without knowing what that key is designed to unlock. Poor Gordon Brown shaped his key but misunderstood the lock. Who is coaching him through the resulting fallout?