Posts Tagged ‘coaching process’


While the narratives that we tell of our lives define who we are and our place in the world, a story built up around the good bits only does not establish us as plausible human beings.   Since just over a year, thanks to facebook’s  new timeline feature,  everyone is dutifully filling in the gaps and plumping up their narratives with pictures, maps, apps and events.  The facebook sell on it is that it “helps you to tell your story” starting with “born on…”  and  following with images of ourselves from infancy to parenthood and beyond.

The idea behind facebook’s timeline is to help us create a chronological autobiography of annotated photos and posts,  likes and activities so that those who are our facebook “friends” are able to claim a bird’s eye view of our lives and have a fuller and deeper understanding of who we really are, how we got to where we did and who we met along the way.

What most of us naturally tend not to record are pictures of the times we didn’t make it to the finishing line with a big smile on our faces, of the loves that went badly wrong and cost us a fortune in therapy, of the numerous acts of poor judgement (not only in youth) or of the misdemeanours and everyday failings that go to make up a life lived.  We have no pictures of the conflicts we have kick-started, of those that we unwittingly became involved in, of the difficult conversations that we are still avoiding or the wounds that have cut so deep as to be unforgettable.

And yet, these negative experiences are the catalysts of learning and growth that chisel the contours of our lives and provide us with the depth and meaning essential to our development as human beings.   Without this downside,  our virtual timeline courtesy of facebook will never present the full picture and neither we nor our friends will ever attain the promised bird’s eye view of who we truly are.

As a conflict coach, I help people to understand the role that conflict plays in their lives, the conflict patterns that repeat themselves,  their personal conflict responses and the opportunities and potential for change that their particular set of values and strengths inherently hold for them.  While conflict profile assessments are a good place to start, I find working with timelines that record both the negative and positive milestones in life hugely effective in providing the client with an understanding of who they are in relation to conflict and gaining an accurate picture of their conflict profile as it presents itself over a lifetime.

A timeline therefore that reaches beyond the high-days and holidays to record both the negative and positive events in our lives allows us

  • to identify the opportunities that have come our way and the choices that we have made in response to them
  • to identify influential people or pivotal experiences
  • to recognize the significant thread or theme that runs through seemingly unconnected events in our lives
  • to identify behavioral patterns in relationships, particularly as regards managing conflict
  • to see how negative events have influenced us
  • to understand the challenges and stumbling blocks on the way to change

How to draw your timeline:

Turn an A4 sheet of paper broadside and draw a horizontal line along the length of it, leaving a small margin at both ends.  Mark the line off into five-year periods starting at birth up to the present.  Record positive events above the horizontal line by making a mark on the timeline and drawing a vertical line to the text above that names or records the event.  At times you may need to stagger the length of these lines so as to make space for multiple events during one specific period.   Record negative events below the horizontal line in the same way.  Leave enough space in the five-year period for several events to be recorded or for you to come back to and fill in later.  Make it as complete as possible and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there an obvious theme running through my timeline?
  • Is there a single driving force that  has influenced the decisions I have taken in my life so far?
  • What are the important stages in my life?  Which people or events have marked them?
  • What are the turning points and which events have led to them?
  • Where are the forks in the road and the criteria that I used to evaluate my choices?
  • Which negative experiences have not been dealt with?
  • Are there negative experiences that through any act of mine can be turned into positive experiences?

Once these questions have been answered and digested and you feel that you have taken all you can get out of your timeline, use it as a launching pad for projections and planning for the years ahead.  The following questions will get you going:

  • If I am able to choose, where do I want to be in five or ten-years time?
  • What do I need to undertake to get there?
  • Is this consistent with the overall themes of my life?
  • What is your driving force for the next  period in my life?
  • Is this consistent with my long-term goals?

Now that’s what I call creating a fuller and deeper picture.  That’s what I call a timeline.


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“To forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest”  Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Like any journey worth the trouble, the first step towards forgiveness is the most difficult.   Once started, it becomes easier if we take it one step at a time and allow ourselves a margin of error, of occasionally re-tracing our steps and of stopping for breath and replenishment.    This seven-step plan is an outline for a forgiveness process that I have used successfully with clients.

  1. The first step is a commitment to ourselves and to our healing.  Forgiveness is about you and for you and is exclusively your choice to  make. Remind yourself that it is not about condoning what has happened or reconciling with the offender. It is a readiness to commit to a new life, free of the burden of unforgiveness.
  2. The second step in the process is to return to the narrative of the harm done to you, to describe it and how it has affected you and your life.  This can be in a piece of writing to yourself or can be told to someone in your trust.  It might also be beneficial at this stage to tell your confidante or to write down to yourself that this act of telling the grievance story is part of your process of forgiveness.
  3. The third step is to write down as many reasons as you can for NOT forgiving.  Then go on to record in as much detail as possible how holding onto unforgiveness is affecting your life.  Add to this a list of your unmet expectations as a result of the harm done to you and follow this up by recording what it costs you to hold onto these expectations.
  4. Now consciously address the grievance and allocate it a resting place in your past.  This means giving up all dreams of a better or a different past.  It sounds easy enough but unforgivers are firmly committed to the “if only” dialogue.   Bann all such thoughts and expressions from your discourse.  The past is as it stands.  No amount of wishful thinking is going to change it.
  5. Next, think of times in your life in which you have wronged, hurt or disappointed others and remind yourself that we are all human and subject to errors and failures.  It is easier to forgive, when we call to mind our own fallibility and when we acknowledge our own weakness and shadows.
  6. Think of new ways of meeting your needs for recognition, love, respect and whatever else you feel has been lost through disappointed expectations and wounding and turn your creative attention and your power towards filling these gaps in your life as you would want to see them filled.
  7. Create a cleansing ritual for your forgiveness.  This could include:  burying the unforgiveness that you have been holding onto and putting it to rest together with an item however small, which symbolises the painful past; gathering and burning your forgiveness writings and so setting free the negative and dark thoughts that have held you; clearing out any remnants of the past that symbolise the unforgivness and your pain; inviting a confidante to share these rituals acts with you.

Forgiveness is about changing your perspective and in so-doing, gaining enormous personal power.  It is about taking responsibility for your happiness and not leaving it squarely in the hands of someone who has hurt or offended you.  Forgiveness is about living your best life not only in the face of difficulties but because of the unique chance of growth and personal development that overcoming difficulties bring with them.

Forgiveness is about re-writing the grievance narrative to include the life-changing power of your act of forgiveness and the new pathways to joy that forgiveness holds for you.

Need anything more to convince you to forgive?

Next week:  Forgiving oneself.

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However well or badly we have managed to manoeuvre ourselves through a difficult conversation or a hostile confrontation, one skill always has the power to lighten the situation and change the tide of communication for the better – that of a well-executed  apology.

An apology can go a long way in resolving conflict and restoring faith in relationships but be warned,  it does have to be the real thing for it to work its magic.  You’re heading for trouble if you think you’ll get away with a cheap, mumbled “sorry, didn’t mean it”  type of apology – these only serve to pile insult upon injury and harden the fronts.  The secret to knowing how to use this brilliant conflict resolution tool lies in the correct dosage of four essential elements which all good apologies have in common:

  • Acknowledgement

This means stating one’s understanding of what happened in a specific and objective manner as well as how such actions have offended or hurt the other person.

  • Responsibility

This means taking full responsibility without any excuses whatsoever and irrespective of whether the resulting offense was intentional or not.  Think of it as  happily picking up the check, knowing that there are no tax breaks.

  • Remorse

This means an expression of the genuinely sincere regret that we feel at our understanding that through our actions another has been hurt.

  • Reparation

This might range from a promise not ever again to repeat an action to an offer to replace something damaged or in someway to compensate the other for the injury caused.

Watch John Cleese in his inimitable style  put a light-hearted spin on the art of apology while nevertheless paying close attention to these four essential elements.  And then,  trawl your memory for any outstanding apologies which you might need to make, formulate them to include the four essential ingredients above and then go ahead and  apologise,  before you too find yourself hung out to dry!

Next week:  The effect of an apology.

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Thinking back to my childhood and my early experiences of conflict resolution, the response I most associate with this time of life is without a doubt,  compromise:  “Stop fighting and share!” was the plea for playroom harmony, the consequence of which meant that I had to make do with half – half of the doll’s house furniture, half of the plasticine or half of the crayons when what I really  wanted was the whole damn lot, so that I could live out the imaginative potential that those objects held for me.   Sharing down the middle  reduced the magic, the creative buzz lost its zing, my friend wasn’t my friend anymore and I was left with a latent aversion to the well-meant admonishment to “share nicely!” which I can only admit to now, many years later.

Don’t get me wrong – I had no problem sharing  sweets, toys that were in abundance or that in which I had no particular vested interest  but things that held special meaning to me or which I (or my sibling or friend) had an emotional attachment to were indeed a problem.

When it comes to creating fair factual solutions such as dividing goods or allocating time-slots compromise is great but on issues close to one’s heart or in matters affecting ongoing relationships, compromise introduces something that allows dissatisfaction and resentment to rise and linger and leaves one with memories that smack of regret.

If what looks good on paper does not meet the emotional or behavioural needs of ongoing relationships, compromise often results in both parties feeling short-changed and aggrieved and only serves to increase rather than reduce conflict potential.

Compromise is therefore appropriate:

  • When a quick or temporary resolution is sought
  • As a back-up to other conflict resolution modes such as competition or collaboration
  • When the parties are equally powerful and equally committed to opposing views
  • When “splitting the difference” is better than getting nothing at all
  • When the parties “agree to disagree” and to live with the decision
  • When the outcome to the parties is of moderate significance only

And inappropriate:

For conflict theorists compromise is a win-lose situation – one in which both parties get something but not all of what they want.  Being able to hold this middle-ground implies  a certain tension – and therein lies the groundwork for festering ill feelings and dissatisfaction which have the potential to surface as conflict sooner rather than later.

In the words of Calvin and Hobbs ,  “A good compromise leaves everybody mad”. And for Calvin, one that requires relinquishing a favourite marble or a treasured fishing-fly definitely would: certain things in life just cannot be compromised!

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Speak to a coach about essential coaching skills and they won’t hesitate to list powerful listening and the ability to ask profound and deeply exploratory questions. What only few mention, however, is the subtle yet highly effective art of silence – knowing when to speak and when to desist to allow the client to move from one cognitive step to the next.

If listening does indeed make up the lion’s share of coaching, it is this particular aspect of listening – that which happens during silence – that is as delicate and revealing a tool as a surgeon’s scalpel and is most certainly the hallmark of  great coaching.

What is it about silence that makes managing it so difficult to master and yet when mastered and skilfully employed, so highly effective?

To understand our relationship to silence we need to become aware of our constant exposure to noise – to the ongoing chatter as we move through the world, to the ipods in our ears, the radio in the car, the background noise of the TV, the mood music of the shopping mall and the buzz and the beep of incoming messages. We are in fact so constantly exposed to noise,  that most of us have lost the skill of being silent and no longer recognize  the opportunities for  self-knowledge and meaningful communication that silence brings.

What we have lost along the way, is the ability to tune into and follow our own  subtle, instructive and immensely useful thought process, to connect with our deepest voice and to simply observe our being, here and now. Distracted by constant noise, kept on edge by continual interruption, we have come unconsciously to fear or at least to feel highly uncomfortable when facing silence.  In conversations, most of us feel the need to fill the space that silence leaves with some word or phrase; in our daily goings about, we quickly turn to a source of noise to shut out the silence.

And yet it is this very opportunity to connect with our innermost thoughts that coaching brings to the table when silence is allowed to be.    When a coach is able both to allow and to hold the silence for the client, the greatest successes are achieved: connections are made, ideas emerge and the client experiences the wonder of great coaching as he or she delves into the resourcefulness of silence in opening up the space for growth and change.

Silence,  even if it is the silence of confusion,  is a veritable hub of activity for the client – the machine-room for cognizance and transformation. If focussed listening allows individuals to explore deeper, knowing that they are listened to at the deepest of levels, then silence is the high art of focussed listening.

So, whether as coaches or as individuals wishing to improve interpersonal communication, give the gift of silence today – ask your questions and then simply wait with an attentive mind and observe the flow of communication and connection that develops. Don’t be tempted to jump in and fill in the space that silence creates through re-phrasing or adding information; simply observe the wonderful process of communication that unfolds when we have the space and the time to connect to our innermost voice in the presence of a ready listener.

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A recent online discussion amongst conflict resolution coaches sparked a fond memory which I think is well worth passing on:

I was so taken by a book that I read to my children when they were small and it stayed in my mind so persistently, that I subsequently went to great lengths to trace it long after it was no longer available on the shelves of major bookstores.   It’s called “It came through the Wall” by Tim Healey and is about a little boy who is visited one night by his very worst nightmare – a huge hairy monster that comes through the wall of his bedroom.

From under his bedclothes he observes the gradual emergence of the hairy beast claw-by-claw as it steps through his wall and comes to sit on his bed.   The monster speaks to him, tells him about the dark and gloomy place that he comes from and says enough to spark the boy’s interest so that after his departure and despite his fear, the boy finds himself yearning to see him again.

He finally manages to step through his wall himself and visits the monster only to find him  terribly unhappy because he is as he says,  “unnamed” and as such, a “no-one”.  To the monster’s delight, the boy names him “The Great Nameless Dread” and the monster celebrates his naming in great style.  In return for being named, the monster gives the boy a handful of “mysterial light” to take back with him and sends him on his way back through the wall.  The book ends with the boy mourning the fact that he was never again able to visit the monster, nor was he ever again visited by him.  But he has clearly left his fear behind him and in its place at the bottom of his sock-drawer is the handful of “mysterial light” which he turns to, to remind himself of the power he has to overcome anything and the trust in his ability to do so.

It is a wonderful tale about overcoming fear by

  • a willingness to examine it closely
  • a readiness to acquaint oneself with its origins
  • the naming of it
  • the ability to leave it behind one after doing the above

The benefits of the process include

  • overcoming even our most paralyzing fears
  • belief in oneself and one’s ability to face fear
  • the reward of resolution
  • the personal strength that is to be gained from mastering the challenge of fear

In dealing with fears or anxieties which surface during the course of coaching, this childrens’ story aligns perfectly with the coaching goals and to a large extent, with the steps of the coaching process.    Out of the mouths of babes or wisdom indeed from the nursery!

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