I was invited to speak at the Inspired2Learn conference in Devizes a couple of weeks ago. Amongst the other presenters were Lynne Cooper and Mariette Castellino, who have been developing the ‘clean language’ approach of David Grove and latterly Penny Tompkins and James Lawley into a very usable short coaching format – the Five-Minute Coach.
Like good teachers, Lynne and Mariette had us using the ideas right away in the session, with a carefully scripted set of coaching questions. The grammar looks a little strange at first, it’s NOT everyday conversational grammer, and very clearly told to stick to the instructions – a cry I frequently make of those learning SF. To give a flavour, it started like this:
- Outcome: And what would you like to have happen?
- Choosing the best outcome: And when (outcome in coachee’s words), then what happens
- And when (last answer), then what happens?
- (Repeat question, with each answer, until no new answers emerge)
- And (outcome) and (recap all answers), what are you drawn to most?
This is just the first section. The thing that I found very appealing indeed was the total focus that Lynne and Mariette gave to the client’s actual words. Listen and use them back in the next question. That’s all. I think this is very powerful and also very respectful of the client. The same spirit applies in SF, the words you are given by the client are totally fine and we practice ‘radical acceptance’ in the words of Steve de Shazer. This is not to say, of course, that the first answer is the end of the story – as the taster questions above make clear.
Listening to and enjoying Lynne and Mariette’s session, I was reminded of Prof Ralph Stacey’s concept of management (and interpersonal relations in general) as a series of responding gestures. Some gestures are inviting – for example, ‘what would you like to talk about today?’. Others are subjugating – ‘I want to talk about THIS today…’. The former allows choice and movement, the latter wants abeyance and contriteness. If one’s manager says ‘I want to talk about THIS’, then the choices are to accept it, or reject it (and put the relationship in jeopardy). There are some mid-course options, but they require nerve and skill in a difficult moment.
Here’s my thought. When we paraphrase, we are subjugating. We are saying to our clients, ‘your words aren’t good enough, please use mine instead’. SF workers (and clean language practitioners) are very careful to listen very hard in order to use the clients’ exact words to offer back for further elaboration and construction. As my friends at the Brief Therapy Practice tweeted the other day, ‘Listen to build, not to understand!’.
You can find out more about Lynne and Mariette’s Five-Minute Coach and other work at http://www.changeperspectives.com . Their book The Five-Minute Coach is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1845908007/ .