Thursday, December 08, 2011

Coaching congruence

One of the trickiest issues in coaching must be the problem of "making" people want what they should want.  It comes up in two ways.  One is that the person who hires the coach has a goal for the person being coached.  The other is that the person being coached has a goal that they don't entirely like or want. In both cases, the question asked is: "can you help someone become congruent about something?"

Maybe.

The first question is: how will you know it is safe to help someone overcome internal objections to a goal? Incongruence (feeling pulled in different directions when you think about something) is a message from your whole self to your thinking self.  The message is: "there's something not quite right here."

If your whole self were always accurate, then it would be easy to say that coaches should direct people to places where they are congruent - not help them to overcome their own safety signals.  But your whole self is not always right. Sometimes it has been primed (by suggestions in the external world or by anchors in your own experience) to be afraid or limited in situations that are not unsafe.  At the extreme, for instance, people with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) seem to have permanent alarm bells going off, even when there is no reason for alarm.

There are situations where incongruence is, itself, dangerous.  This is obviously true in dramatic situations where someone's life depends on doing the right thing quickly. It is also obvious to most people that incongruence can be dangerous in all kinds of relationships - inconsistency creates uncertainty in other people, and that can snowball.  So there are also situations where the desire to become more congruent is a desire to be safe.

Even when we think we know, we do not know the difference between incongruence that keeps us safe and incongruence that puts us in jeopardy.  We do know that incongruence is stressful and takes energy away from solving problems.  We do know that incongruence means that there are other places that need our energy.

So we can reframe the problem this way:  how can a coach best support you in becoming congruent enough to decide what you want?  An outside perspective can prime your attention to move to the places where you already know the answers. A coach can offer support and reinforcement for the process by which you become congruent, separate from the context of the goal. When you are congruently relaxed and focused, you will know what to change to move forward safely.

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