In this article, I wish to continue the conversation I began in:
… and cover another of the three principles I poetically refer to as “Manzoni’s Triad”. This set of values originated from Italian Romantic literature. In this regard, my first observations can be read in the very first entry of The Coaching Studio – published originally on LinkedIn in December 2020.
Back then, I was reading the International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring, and I found a very interesting paper: “Using the Romantics to understand the imagination: A creative and original methodology for research into coaching.”
Carl Tomlinson, the author, dives into the philosophy of British Romanticism and conducts an interesting perspective on the role of imagination, forth to the role of the “unknown” in communication. He concludes that the ambiguity proper of certain coaching questions stimulates the imagination and the resolution to explore options during the solutioning stage of the coaching relationship.
I invite you to refer to it directly, it can be found on the IJEBCM website.
I found this work inspiring, to the point I went myself through my own review of Romantic literature.
However, Italian Romanticism is very different than the other waves of the same period. Especially in Manzoni, there seems to be no space for imagination. He does not wander lonely as a cloud; he builds detailed histories with rigorous contextual work, and he wants his fiction to seem as authentic and real as possible. He also wants his art to educate. Fiction becomes interesting as a medium.
Interesting as Medium in Coaching
Based on the original Manzoni’s Triad, I already defined that the object of the coaching conversation must be the coachee’s reality. We must inquire about what led our interlocutor to the coaching conversation; and question some assumptions in his version of the story, to leverage some good critical thinking. We want to foresee the purpose of the coaching conversation (something that is different than the goal), and at the same time uncover some biases that may hold back its progression.
In my book New Maieutic, I say it clearly: the conversation is our medium, and so to be interesting it needs to matter to our interlocutor, then it needs to be fruitful:
…That means, if the coachee is determined to carry on with the planned actions in such conversation and being able to pursue them in autonomy.
Clearly, there is a dilemma in defining the commitment and the interest of the client, because he can show conviction during the session for then being unable to conclude anything. If a series of conversations proves fruitless, then we have a problem.New Maieutic (self-reference)
There is more on that than I allowed myself to digress in New Maieutic. Here is where I am going to develop on the matter.
Unfortunately, we cannot count on the whole framework of the Socratic Method while coaching, no matter how useful it is. All Socratic Principles focus on the stimulation of thoughts, but somehow the world is not ready yet for that kind of conversation. We are all emotional, and emotions are way more powerful than facts, and some questions can be pedantic or irritating because of the way they are structured.
Take Why Questions for example. It is easier to ask ourselves Why several times, but does it sound good to us if somebody else is doing it? Or rather, we would have the feeling of an interrogation?
Consciously or not, most of us would get defensive. That would not be good for the coachee, who is granted a safe space from the beginning and suddenly feels a subtle layer of power hierarchy.
Defensive coachees will be more engaged in rationalizing their previous actions than resolving actively the current issue. That stagnates the conversation, and would they ever acknowledge that, may decide to disengage from coaching altogether.
We cannot avoid Why Questions forever: we need to be the right blend of empathic and blunt, to alert our coachee enough to not get too much comfortable. How Questions are much better in this regard.
Out of the mire with Imagination
Probably a more common problem than not is when repeated coaching sessions seem to lead nowhere. This kind of stagnation could make the coachee feel bored and disengage from coaching as if he sees no value in investing his time into it.
What is worse is that as coach, you may begin to feel a little anxious and doubt your skills and expertise because you are stuck. In this regard, beware of the imposter syndrome, and try instead to conduct a retrospective-introspective moment (what I call “Critical Hub”) to collect thoughts and impressions. You will feel better prepared for the next time.
In the meantime, you probably are aware that being coaching a form of dialogue, it is meant to be interactive. Then, you can also switch to some alternative to the traditional conversational patterns. Many coaches use exercises and even some homework with their coachees and that should keep their interest pointed to resolving the issue.
Making the verse to Tomlinson’s research, we can leave the coachee to wander a little over these tools, that we could eventually introduce as a game. It turns out that trying something new can be refreshing, and also bolster the trust relationship between you and the coachee. Finally, wouldn’t be meaningful for the coachee to creatively find a solution thanks to his own imagination?
Interesting as Medium means to conduct a conversation that keeps you and the coachee in a conversational flow, where the only disruption we want is to challenge our interlocutor enough to stimulate progress.
To achieve that, we must be focused on our role while keeping in mind that the solutioning process fully belongs to the coachee. What we can do is to put our skills and toolbox in place to keep the coachee engaged and solution-oriented. And looking forward to the next coaching conversation.
While there are many coaching frameworks around, I prefer to stick to the simplest ones and rely mostly on my coaching ethics. It is useful, time by time, to remind ourselves why we do what we do. When it comes to coaching, the ICF Core Competencies Playbook offers great guidelines.