Effective Coaching and Mentoring
There are many similarities between coaching and mentoring.
Mentoring, particularly in its traditional sense, enables an individual to follow in the path of an older and wiser colleague who can pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach opportunities.
Coaching on the other hand is not generally performed on the basis that the coach has direct experience of their client’s formal occupational role unless the coaching is specific and skills focused.
TA is a social psychology as well as a method for personal growth and development. As such, we are well placed to consider the context of coaching, which is more than the individual we are working with. That individual is within a social system and the influence of that social system on the individual and on our contract needs to be taken note of.
Massey writes extensively on Berne’s work and states that:'Social–psychology processes serve as the bridge interconnecting self, others and social structures. Social psychology adds to the comprehension of the contexts – families, systems, cultures – in which persons both experience difficulties and develop constructively. Assessment and interventions in the clinical, counselling, educational, and organisational fields are effectively broadened by considering the more encompassing social-psychological processes'.
We also need to consider what meaning the client makes of their social system – for us this means the organisation. We need to understand the client’s meaning and not try to interpret for them.
When working within an organisational context we also need to consider the psychological contract or the unwritten rules of the organisation and how this affects our coaching client. The psychological contract will influence and can determine behaviour. For example, your coaching client works in an organisation where the unwritten rule is to give the boss lots of space in the meetings so that s/he is the one airing their views and being “charismatic”, and employees are not meant to express themselves.
Your client learns how to manage her boss, letting him take the credit for her ideas. However, this is a psychological contract for the department and your client carries her process with her boss over into meetings with the MD, CEO, etc. where they believe she does not show herself. Therefore, what may be a good strategy in her own department becomes a detrimental process within the wider organisation as it prevents her being seen and getting promotion. Developing awareness of these issues would therefore be helpful.
On his part the boss may be rather like Icarus who flew too close to the sun. His wings were damaged and he fell to the ground. The boss could be seduced by his own power and promotes himself on that power which in fact is covering his weaknesses which he is not prepared to look at. If we were to work with the boss then we find it more productive to work with the meta-perspective bringing that which is not conscious into conscious awareness so that he can experience these “weaknesses” as areas in which to grow, or at least not to be ashamed of and therefore to delegate those areas which call for skills and abilities he does not yet have.
As someone starts to vocalise their thoughts and feelings they bring something into being that they may not have been full aware of.
“ As a man speaketh, not only are his words coming into being, but also the man himself” - Heidegger in Hargrove, 2003.
In this way a world that we have fragmented become whole and influences our perspective and view of the world. This may even have the result that the client is willing to consider how they prioritise their work. For example, someone who is stressed and who believes that taking on additional work is the only way to promotion may never have even questioned whether they really want the promotion if it involves this level of stress. Further, what is the evidence in the here and now that to get on the client has to work long hours, taking work home etc.
When we see things as facts, rather than as beliefs it affects our actions and our relationships.
If we take account of co-constructive processes the client is involved in, not only with us but within their social structures we will be able to support them to identify how they may get in their own way in terms of setting and achieving goals.
However, coaching does need to focus on the setting and achievement of goals and the reference to their individual proclivities, frames of reference etc., are only relevant when and if they stand in the way of achievement and satisfaction.
In terms of the meaning the client makes of his or her social system, we might consider Allen and Allen’s work on Constructivism.
Constructivist theory shifts the emphasis from psychopathology to the world of meaning and narrative. When we tell stories about ourselves, our situation and our view of the world we "solidify our memories and identities, eliminate fragmentation, create coherence in our sense of our lives”. – Allen and Allen (1997).
The very telling of the story can make it meaningful. The following table looks at the difference between Constructivist perspectives and those which focus on pathology.
We need to enable our clients to move out of their stuck places (referred to as “ruts” and “rivers” by Hargrove) and into more of a flow state.
By enabling the client to develop other interpretations that are more empowering, inspiring and accurate we can enable them to move from the stuck place.
We can ask what their evidence is in the here and now for their belief – often stated as a fact. Whilst this indicates contaminated thinking, and discounting, we can avoid interpreting and enable the client to develop their own awareness via our questions.
The exploration of hitherto “hidden” options enables the client to become freer and more creative in their thinking, leading to greater empowerment.
Very often people not only make observations but link assessments and judgements with these observations and then act upon these assessments without checking them out.
It is the coaches job to listen to the assumptions behind the story as it is these that can cause the difficulty. We can relate these to script, contaminated thinking, discounting, frames of references, Okayness etc.
Gender and Communication Style
Tannen, a socio-linguist, did a range of research on male and female conversation observing people in the workplace. Men and women have different styles and when these styles clash there can be conflict. This is an aspect unexplored by TA. For example:
- women are apparently more likely to say “Sorry I did not get back to you yesterday”, some men apparently see this as deference.
- men are also more likely to talk over women and their style of leadership and management is seen to be the norm.
- women tend to talk round issues whilst men try to problem-solve instead of listen and enable the other person to come to their own realisations.
- some men may not know how to talk Adult to Adult with women and instead can be patronising or flirtatious.
Coaching can assist both men and women to understand the other and to change by asking for what they want from the other person and so on.
Developing an understanding of these differences will enable diversity to be accepted. Change can then happen. TA can deal with these differences through exploring transactions, Okayness, discounting etc.
What is really being said? What would be a catchphrase that shows this process? Meta-systems perspective can be understood through Buber’s concept of inclusion. Inclusion is different from empathy - in one sense it is deeper. The coach enters the world of the client whilst, at the same time, maintaining a sense of their own self (c.f. Erskine's therapy process of Inquiry, Attunement, Involvement). In this way, the coach becomes the “safe object” and offers a safe space for the client to move into. Through the process of taking a meta-perspective and understanding the client, the coach can get to understand the client’s key issue for that particular contractual session.
This is the mirroring of the process between the client and their boss, or the client and their team members. The client brings this to the coach and acts perhaps in the same way as their workforce does toward them. Perhaps they are resistant or withholding. The coaching client then comes to the session withholding, even though they are not usually withholding. The coach could then take this withholding process to their own coach or supervisor. The supervisor would need to reflect back the process in a healthy way so that the process is unlocked all the way back down the line. Ideally, this also needs to happen in initial coaching session rather than compounding the difficulty the client is experiencing.
Finally, we need to make a commitment to the client and enable them to transform any difficulties and be on the client’s side but not against others. It is our job as coaches to create the space for the client to move into.
Allen, James R and Allen, Barbara A (1997), A New Type of Transactional Analysis and One Version of Script Work with a Constructionist Sensibility, TAJ 27:2
Erskine, R. (2010) Life Scripts Karnac
Hargrove R (2003), Masterful Coaching, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer
Massey Robert F ( 2007), Reexamining Social Psychiatry as a Foundational Framework for Transactional Analysis: Considering a Social-Psychological Perspective, TAJ 37:1
Peltier B (2001), The Psychology of Executive Coaching. Theory and Application, Brunner-Routledge
Searles, H.F. (1955) The Informational Value of the Supervisor’s Emotional Experience (in Collected Papers on Schizophrenia and Related Subjects) Hogarth Press
Tannen, D. (1990) You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation Virago