The medium and the message

s-pics-summer-2007-010‘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?