When I think of, or practice guided conversation like the ones of coaching, I keep into consideration three principles that are useful to measure the effectiveness of the dialogue, and at the same time to do not get sidetracked.
These three concepts are a rielaboration of Alessandro Manzoni’s philosophy of art. And he was a great artist, indeed. He is considered the incarnation of Italian Romanticism. He saw in the art the perfect medium of personal growth, one that would educate the mind and elevate the spirit; and so, to allow people fighting their personal injustices. Yet, he took distances from many elements of other Romantic waves, focusing on the reality instead of the exaltation of sentiments.
Real as Object; Interesting as Medium; Useful as Purpose. In the very first issue of The Coaching Studio series, I elaborated on how the so-called Manzoni’s Triad translates in the setting of the coaching conversation (or any other form of conversational framework).
Real as Object means that we should care of facts over opinions. Facts are the ground upon which a conversation grows. They are measurable and can be considered true. What can we intend as facts in a conversation?
History over Story
We cannot have a complete and absolute view on the happenings of our interlocutor. Usually, a problem or goal comes up from some antecedents. How and why the other came up with it? That is to be found in what we could consider, to use a medical term, the anamnesis. We want to avoid mixing the true colors of the history with the ones given in by the other person. People are good storyteller, and less good to describe unbiased facts. And after all, if they were, would they need your help?
In a coaching conversation, the history is the “reality” that we want to flesh out of biased impressions and opinions. Such elements are also important, because they make us understand the type of person that is sitting in front of us. They can be used later, to trigger some “aha” moment when we aim bringing in some good critical thinking. But they become important to the game only once you have established a solid baseline that has been cleared up from opinions.
We don’t really need to perform a root-cause analysis; what we want is to keep a solution-oriented approach. We should also focus on one history, and that alone. Everybody else’s story is not relevant to resolve the matters of our coachee and actually deviates the attention from what has true meaning. Let’s keep that in mind if the other person begins to talk about somebody else’s whereabouts.
What we feel when we live an event is also a fact, and a very important one. Emotions can tell a lot about the way we behave, and we cannot really expect to discuss facts without taking into account what the person felt then and feels now about them.
In some cases, the coachee did not really process these feelings, or might have tendency to rationalize. The emotional layer is a subtle one. More often than not, it is the way we feel about something that happened before, that stops us to proceed towards what may come after. Our explanatory style influences whether or not we are willing to take a risk – including the one of seeing reality for what it is.
Thus, beside getting a description of the history, it is important to understand how the emotions play a role in the decision making of our interlocutor. That helps us to empathize, in order to achieve a deeper connection and understanding; but also, to ensure that the interlocutor isn’t lying to him/herself. Otherwise, there will be no real progress.
Of course, thinking about the reality of things we cannot exclude our personal, biased vision of things. Before being a coach, I am a human being and so I can be affected by self-deception myself. For this reason, I believe that each conversation is a great learning opportunity.
If we acknowledge that, we realize that we also need the right state of mind before offering our service to somebody. This means that we should make sure to follow some precise ethics and a code of conduct, of which the coachee should be aware. Coaching is a universal tool; sadly, we cannot coach everyone. If we perceive a red light we should interrupt at any time.
The one inference here is that, outside of the coaching conversation, we should revise our perception of the conversation over the happenings. And that is possible with a moment that is both retrospective and introspective, which I describe in my book New Maieutic as the “Critical Hub”. But that’s another story, for another time.