The Power of a Helping Conversation

Coaching, mentoring or a genuine helping conversation?

I’ve never been very happy with the term “coaching”. But mentoring doesn’t wow me that much either. For years I wondered what my distaste towards both terms stemmed from and then, recently, I discovered at least part of the explanation. It has to do with the twats I’ve met who call themselves coaches and mentors. I’ve also met plenty of very skilled “helpers” of others who call themselves coaches and mentors, and I supposed I must have just been unlikely that those first impressions, when I was younger, involved meeting people who were, by and large, arrogant, haughty, not nearly as self-aware as they claimed, and bandwaggon jumpers who were one week trained in anything from NLP to EFT to Hypnosis.

I found that some of my earliest clients came to me having been, to a greater or lesser extent, confused, screwed up, or simply taken for an emotional ride by these amateurs, control freaks and , worst of all, unhealed healers. So I think the two terms, coach and mentor, have been a bit sullied by my own historical encountering of them.

The regular conversation, where one person helps another – by listening to them, offering advice where needed, challenging assumptions, questioning behaviours, values and trying to help another find THEIR own way, should always be rooted in freedom, never passivity – and I define freedom of as a process of becoming aware of your own motives for action in REAL TIME< so that when you decide to act, you are influencing your own will in the moment, not after the fact when it is too late. The process of learning and improving our lives then also involves being helped to reflect on those “after the fact” things and helping us to hone and finesse that ability to come more into an ability to be free in the now. We live in the present, – but also the past and, to the extent of our imagination, the future. But, being beings of space and time, action itself takes place in the now. If we can’t be free in the now, then we’ll always be chasing our tails.

A More Powerful and Obvious Approach?

Now, there’s a very powerful and obvious approach to this that is often right under our very noses and therefore we don’t see it – this approach is called “conversation”.

A skilled conversation, a real one with active listening and no collusion of mediocrity, can get to the heart of things, get to the root cause of problems and questions. We often find that our inner confusion and worry doesn’t easily get cleared when we are in a conversation with only ourselves. A conversation with another, especially sometime who is very instinctively skilled in the art of conversation, can be just what we need for the clouds to clear, and our own sunshine to burst through.

In a skilled conversation there is plenty of listening, but there is also reflecting back what we have said,, directly to us, and often that reflection helps us to see why we do what we are doing – our motives for action. Often these motives hide even deeper motives and in our sub-conscious, we can find aspects of our motivation that we aren’t immediately conscious of. We start to find out what is “driving us” and we might decide we don’t like it at all.

The conversation tends to self-organise. It isn’t led by one person. Instead what needs to be said and explored emerges out of the conversation itself. The conversation then makes use of the helper by “pulling” them to help when that help is needed. It also pulls in the “client” who begins to influence where the conversation is going. In both cases, there’s usually a tendency towards “what next?”. It’s usually about what needs to be done in ways that feel true, eloquent and “good”.

Then the skilled conversation might also involve the listener offering insights from their own experience – drawing into the conversation stories, examples, ideas that can throw useful light on problems and challenges. Here the helper is only as good as their life experience. A good helper has lived, they draw on their own lessons of life, and also their own self-awareness and consciousness. They use a lot of discernment in what they say and offer and employ something called moral imagination – where what they offer is always directed at the unfolding free action of the “other”.

The Key Elements of a Real Helping Conversation

Honesty, openness, a willingness to challenge, and question, and to offer suggestion for new direction – these can form part of the conversation. Learning from action from conversation to conversation – experimenting and trying out new stuff in the world, then reflecting further, we start to direct the onward path, the rest of our life, in a way that is both creative and free. First, with the help of the conversation, and then flying on our own, the “coaching and mentoring” catalyses us to new action, new experience, new motivation. You get stuff done, but you also start to develop a much deeper knowledge of why you do what you do.

So, that’s my own approach to those terms “coaching and mentoring”. Over the years I’ve helped the chairman of a regional tourist authority, a director in local government, a senior manager in the pharmaceutical industry, a director of a hospital, a theatre company, and a maker of loud speakers! I’ve helped artists, scientists,  owner managers of small businesses, writers and cafe owners.

I’ve been told I’ve changed many lives for the better. In truth, it is the conversation that has changed lives and I’ve been a partner in those conversations. My role is to guide towards what needs to be done. Imagine at any moment, an angel appears behind you and calls your name. And in that calling you know you are being asked this: “What are you doing?”

The conversations aren’t always comfortable, because they reach for truth, and what needs to be freely done to
move our life to a better place. Plenty of action results and personal learning and growth is a big part. You change, but you also encounter suffering in order to find resolution and progress.

Finding a new way forward?

A new direction in life, recovering after job loss, a mid-life crisis, turning around a failing business, finding a career, getting out of a trap, exploring values and beliefs, working through a relationship crisis, finding health. The journey here is the destination as well because the conversation works through healing, self-knowing, and the struggle to find meaning in what we are doing. Our life – our biography – is a story. We really can influence the “narrative”, but we often have to uncover who and what is influencing the development of that story in ways we weren’t aware of or would never want. We have to become to authors of our story. The helping conversation introduces some helpful editing until we are ready to write on our own.

The power in this process lies as much in good tea and coffee, face to face dialogue, penetrating questions and discussion, and then a collective focus on the “how”, on the next steps we need to take. It isn’t about “goals”. It is about narratives, our story. It isn’t about where we want to get to. It is about who we are and who we are becoming and whether that is someone we want to become. it’s about finding the “thread” in a life that might well span a hundred years.

Contact me to start the conversation.

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