Me, Otis and Transition

So…you’re having an Otis Redding moment: big changes, new home, loneliness at your heels (dock – optional). Balancing these priorities can be immense. What do you do if funds don’t stretch to a coach or counsellor (or a dock)?

Well, I was landlocked and distant from any consoling waters, so I dipped instead into The Way of Transition by William Bridges. Prompted by an untimely illness and family bereavement earlier this year, I finally picked up this read on recommendation from my coaching supervisor, and regretted not doing so before I had needed it that badly. Bridges’ book works because it is itself clearly the product of transition when his wife died after a long illness. No need for case studies; he was it.   I found it comforting, almost exciting, to consider that the ending of the ‘old life/values/attitudes’ might herald a neutral zone. Me: my life as liminal as cracked tarmac, punctuated by ruptures that jolt, but in between the cracks germinate the creative traces of a new outlook. A new sense of self, and life on track.

It is in the neutral zone that life’s menu of possibilities make themselves known, and Bridges spends much of the book pleading with transitioners not to speed out of it. You must have heard people say, especially for dealing with grief: ‘no big decisions for 6 months, at least’.  It’s tempting to crash on, particularly if you watch others step into their new lives achieving and enjoying.  You may want to find out their secrets. The bad news is that their techniques will not work for you; they merely went through the ending, neutral zone and beginning in the way they needed to. Bridges argues that just as you can’t mimic others’ transition, you can’t force it either.

Now I’m recovered and coming to terms with my loss, and I’m okay with this neutral place. I can see that the very fact that something disappeared, and that I’ve been bumped off my route, now mean that something else is now beginning. It’s the way of the neutral zone and I can’t cut this short or I might miss the new beginning. Bridges compares the neutral zone to being the bit where you watch your new life coming sharper and sharper into focus, like a ship on the horizon; all the while being unsure, and not knowing how, or why, or what’s next.

Have this book to hand for when you are charting your own transitions. It’ll help you understand the need for sitting and waiting, if nothing else.  And Otis, I love your classic, but you got it wrong. Yeah, I’m here contemplating urban tides of transition as they roll away. But nothing seems to stay the same. The new is coming.

Posted 26th November 2018 by emma

Coaching clients with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) using the 6 Do’s of Data

My coaching work champions the talents of clients with neurodivergent profiles, some of whom have an ASC. The NAS defines autism as a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them (2018).

So you can imagine how any talking development tool like coaching might be difficult for someone with autism. This can be partly because  social/communication difficulties in a client with Asperger’s or high functioning autism (HFA) do not always make themselves that obvious. Basically, it’s up to you and your coaching to locate the challenges before you start (plenty more could pop up on the way) so you can find the best fit.

Autistic Spectrum Conditions

Before my first meeting, I have found it helpful to categorise the coaching work into different types of data for interpretation by the client. This helps me strip it of assumptions and nuance, where possible, and stops the autistic client being subjected to data overload in their interactions with me, through channels that, to them, represent the biggest challenges.

All this will help establish a lingua franca with your client about the relationship that goes beyond just talking and listening – crucial at the outset to make the work all round much more productive.

Here’s my list of 6 Do’s with Data to enhance your neurodiversity coaching:

  • Relationship data: Keep the introduction stuff simple, measured and cool, as meeting someone for the first time, if you have an ASC, can be like ‘running a marathon’, leaving them in a state of overall exhaustion. ASC clients can get really anxious and may want extra adjustment to help them prepare e.g. a photograph of their coach in advance. One major causative factor in this client fatigue is believed to be the effort involved in processing non-verbal and verbal communication, even when they know the person well.
  • Sensory data: Cut down the sensory data you’re giving off. Neurological difference means your client may experience the world in a whole different way; find out a bit about what the world feels like to them so you can be prepared. Your client is likely to have areas of hypersensitivity so think about your impact on their senses. Keep things like perfume etc to a minimum; wear muted colours, unfussy hair and minimal jewellery. As for all the coaching concerns about the venue, context etc, that distant mowing sound 200m away on a Thursday at 11am could be deafening to your client; the room ambience may feel fine to you but be like forcing them to star under the lights of a West End show.
  • Boundaries data: Try to be even more structured when coaching ASC clients. Explain more frequently routines, signpost boundaries, both temporal/physical, and check for understanding discussion content beyond the literal. In agreement with the client, I might cut the session time into segments and tell the client that there will be: 15 minutes catchup, 45 mins coaching, 30 mins roundup.
  • Language data: Restrict this as much as possible to clean, unambiguous language used throughout, and cut back on non-verbal cues (effectively another obscure ‘foreign language’, therefore rendered useless). Likewise, anything too nuanced or with subtext and the session risks being mired in client confusion and anxiety.
  • Coaching data: Strip back your GROW coaching model as much as you can for the client to set one goal and feel in control. Any more solutions-focused models like OSKAR are just too hypothetical and draw on Theory of Mind, which Asperger clients may only be able to apply through theoretical application, not due to sound comprehension.
  • Mentoring data: Take notes as you go (I annotate areas to tackle with M, as in ‘Mentor here’) and, once the coaching section is over, return to the places where the client needed guidance and explanation and ask if they would like some time and help to understand this deeper (in the ‘roundup’ section I mentioned earlier). Sometimes the mentoring conversation can launch from as blunt a starting point as ‘why do neurotypical people find this easy when I don’t?’, or ‘how can I come into a project discussion meeting with my expertise and tell them they need me to do the thing properly?’

It might seem quite daunting to use coaching as a developmental tool with a client that has social/communication difficulties at first. Actually, though, you just need to collaborate more overtly in defining the parameters and conditions for trust-filled dialogue. It’s still coaching contracting as you know it, but turbo-fuelled; merely from Neurodiversity to the Beyond…


Posted 26th August 2018 by emma

Fear and coaching in Love Spaces

Fear and Coaching in Love spacesI have to say, it feels pretty much taboo uttering the words love and fear in the same sentence as coaching. In erecting modern-day boundaries around our work, we coaches do our best to observe these to safeguard the rights and protection of all participants. But attending Robin Shohet’s talk on Love and Fear in Coaching challenged me: it was like having the contents of my Mary Poppins’ coaching kitbag tipped out and audited to a third of its original contents. Here I am, with the realisation that my work and my clients are almost overprotected. Seems I may’ve been over-cautious, you know. As though I’ve been wearing latex gloves for shaking hands at networking events…

So what am I going to do differently?

To start with, I’m changing the terms I use during and about my coaching work. This goes for internal and external dialogue. I’m going to bear in mind that coaching slides along a love-fear continuum. The trouble is that when you’ve been brought in on a problem-solving, solutions-focussed, personal development contract, it’s pretty much a ‘reflex’ not to mention love and fear because if you do, it kind of feels like a breach of contract. For a coach to share both their availability and vulnerability is not assumed as part of the package, yet naming these ‘nasties’ can stop them lurking in the coaching shadows where their power takes hold.

Then I’m going to loosen my expectations of coaching. Yes, it seems to fly in the face of coaching’s core mantra ‘it’s all about the client’, but I’m going to ‘free myself up’. for the benefit of the client and me! From now on, coaching has to satisfy me too. Key to this will be ridding myself of the coaching assumption that when the coaching wheels ain’t turning that the responsibility for this inadequacy is mine, as the coach, to own. It isn’t. Nor is the driver to ‘do good coaching’, which in itself restricts, even jeopardises the coaching.

Finally, I’m going to acknowledge and name any feeling that I experience in the coaching space. For two reasons: to boost any therapeutic benefits of the work by clearing the path to progress, and to open the door to ‘fantastic data’, as Shohet named it, that will feed the work further. Even if it is fear, naming it and talking about it is telling me, the coach, some story. To prove this point, Robin asked us to write down (with no intention of eventual disclosure) ‘what I would least like my supervisor to know about my work’ eg ‘I didn’t use the right technique’. Then he asked us to give a reason why we didn’t want our coach to know this eg ‘because it wouldn’t meet their expectations’. By allowing the fear to take hold of the content and prevent disclosure of the feeling, it can wreck the therapeutic process. Removal of honesty – a vital component of coaching – ironically, means the individual actually doesn’t meet the coach’s expectations, their original fear.

So my mission is to stay firmly on the side of love and curiosity; in the space where growth can happen. Isn’t that, after all, what my coaching space and I are all about?

Posted 4th March 2018 by emma
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