The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Thinking about cooperation

In whatever relationship, when there is cooperation there is also a notion of helping. Coaching is one of these relationships in which cooperation is a prerequisite between the coachee and the coach, and helping is mainly based on the coach assisting the coachee. While both may be learning in this relationship, there is an agreement on who is asking for support and who is offering it.

Reading a description provided by a friend I reflected on how nuanced this relationship is. Much of the way coaching happens depends on the relationship that establishes itself between the coachee and the coach. But it will also depend on the approach the coach prefers, as well as the method he’ll base his coaching upon.

When such a relationship is set up, there will at least be an implicit contract allowing both to be aware of what the work is about, how it will unfold, and under which circumstances it will take place.

The more implicit it is, the less shared clarity is available and visible whenever one of both describes it. One person may give a very different description of it than the other would share. However, this lack of clarity, may in part also be necessary to be able to cooperate and achieve a result. The more explicit the contract is, the less room there is for the unknown. And in work unfolding between two there will be quite a lot of unknowns, as it is a journey.

Cooperation is a process that involves quite a lot of uncertainty beyond the unknown. Whatever action happens, it has an uncertain result. Change means that whatever comes next is uncertain.

Contracting and regular adjustments are there to make as much of the stepping into action predictable as possible. It is not there to make the result predictable, but the circumstances within which change happens. Or said differently, it is there to describe how relationship and change will impact one another.

Whenever there is the desire to achieve something, there will be obstacles involved as well as objectives. Coaches will either seek to help remove obstacles or to help focus on the objective. It’s a choice that will depend on the circumstances, and the coach’s as well as the coachee’s preference.

It often is easier to describe problems than objectives. This can easily make them the focus of the work. It can lead to judgments biasing the work or to coachees hoping that others will take the problem away. When cooperation involves some kind of practice, objectives are easier to define as there are more knows on such a journey. The coach may then find it easy to push his experience and use the methods that make the most sense to him. For the coachee, this can become a reason to rely on the coach and have him design the work to be done.

Both approaches involve many subtleties linked to power dynamics as well as defense mechanisms. It is almost impossible in such a situation to define the right approach when starting. And during the journey, there will be many pitfalls that can lead to a wrong path.

That is yet again, why contracting is so powerful. It serves the idea, that all along the journey, there may be a need to adapt to one another or change the chosen approach. It requires the coach to stay doubtful about his work and yet move ahead with it. It also asks the coachee to participate in making choices within the cooperation as well as for his journey.


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