Ontological Coaching Methods
by Alan Sieler
In recent years coaching, in the form of Organisational Coaching and Life Coaching, has emerged as a professional practice. The long- term public acceptance and commercial viability of any professional practice means that it must be grounded in a substantive discipline and rigorous methodology, which produces positive results for people. The emergence of the discipline Ontology of the Human Observer provides the substantive basis for an ontological approach to coaching. The discipline represents a new understanding of human beings and human interaction. In this article, the essence of the methodological framework of Ontological Coaching will be outlined.
Way of being and behaviour
According to Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, "Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves." Ontological Coaching is an approach to coaching that gets to the heart of what it means to be human.
The word "ontology" means study of being. Ontological Coaching is about coaching to way of being, as a means of producing major shifts in perception and behaviour. In Ontological Coaching, way of being is regarded as the driving influence of behaviour. Performance and effectiveness is shaped by way of being.
Way of Being is seen as three interrelated spheres of human existence. These three spheres are language, emotions and physiology (body posture). Our Way of Being can be thought of as the internal reality we live in, which especially includes the relationship we have with ourselves. It is from this internal reality that we form our reality about the external world and how we participate in it.
The coaching methodology contains a set of tools for observing and shifting way of being. These can be divided into the three "tool kits" of language, emotions and body.
The methodology is based on a new understanding of language and communication developed in the latter part of the twentieth century. The essence of this new understanding is that (i) language consists of listening and speaking and (ii) that language is fundamental in creating reality.
Language is regarded as the fundamental human technology. Language is used to produce outcomes and generate realities. People act (behave) from what comprises reality for them. Effective leadership, management, coaching and team behaviour depends heavily on how people use language. What is done, and how well it is done, is shaped by how people do and do not use language.
Included in the methodology is a new interpretation and detailed model of the process of listening. Listening is an ever-present part of human interaction in the workplace. The model provides a deeper and more effective way of listening that enhances communication and relationships. Listening is regarded as the crucial factor in communication and essential for establishing trust and rapport. Listening is a core business process. Research has shown that senior organisational personnel spend much of their time engaged in listening. One important question to be considered is: "Does the listening of organisational personnel facilitate new ideas and change, as well as enhance performance and productivity?"
Of course, speaking is also a key business process. The methodology contains six precise linguistic tools (called basic linguistic acts) that humans use in everyday conversations to create reality and get things done. Typically, people are not aware of how they use, and misuse, these linguistic tools. Awareness of how to intentionally use them produces more effective ways of conversing, relating and performing in workplace settings.
Listening and speaking occur in the context of conversations. The basic unit of human interaction is conversation: people relate with each other and get things done through conversations. Different types of conversations generate different outcomes. The methodology provides distinctions for recognising different types of conversations and how to utilise them in different circumstances. This includes a precise, practical and highly effective linguistic model to develop collaborative behaviour.
The Power of Stories and Narratives
Stories and narratives are often silent, invisible and in background of everyday conversations. They reflect the deep culture of organisations and can be major barriers to change. They provide powerful contexts of meaning, shaping what people see as possible and not possible for individual, team and organisational improvement. A key part of using this tool is how to uncover destructive narratives and develop powerful and empowering narratives.
Moods and Emotions
People are always in some mood or emotion. Moods and emotions permeate everything people do, and constitute a core business process.
The methodology contains tools for recognising, managing and shifting moods and emotions. The power of moods and emotions is that they always predispose people towards certain behaviours and not others. Speaking and listening, and engaging in conversations, are indispensable forms of human behaviour. How effectively people speak and listen cannot be separated from moods and emotions.
Unfortunately, moods and emotions have not been seen as a crucial area of learning for performance improvement. They are an integral part of the effective use of language for effective communication in leadership, management, coaching and team building. In short, they form a crucial dimension of morale and organisational performance. Precise distinctions and tools in the methodology include:
How to distinguish between moods and emotions.
Recognising and utilising SIX basic moods of life as a deeper level of emotional intelligence, and how they impact on morale and performance.
How to shift from negative moods to positive moods.
How to use moods and emotions to have more effective and influential communication that builds relationships and long-term collaboration.
How to engage in constructive emotional leadership.
Physiology and Body Posture
This would seem to be an unlikely area of attention in the context of organisational performance and improvement. Like moods and emotions, the body has largely been ignored as a key area of learning that impacts on individual and organisational performance. The importance of the body can be expressed in the following way: our way of being is embodied.
The body is always present in how people listen to each other and speak with each other. Speaking is not limited to the vocal chords - it occurs from the body. (This is well known for actors and singers.) An individual's posture consists of the subtle configurations of muscles and skeleton that have been learned throughout life. In many subtle and powerful ways, posture can keep people trapped in negative moods, and negatively impact on listening and speaking.
Specific tools that are part of this aspect of the methodology are:
How to use the body to get into more constructive and productive moods.
How small shifts in body posture can generate a more positive outlook and produce more effective communication.
Like other professions, Ontological Coaching has a clearly articulated ethical framework. The essence of this framework is that, whilst ontological coaches are able to generate powerful interpretations from which people can benefit, the coach does not hold "the truth" about what is best, and always works within a linguistic, emotional and body space of "the legitimate other". This occurs when there is deep respect for the coachee as a person and a learner, best exemplified by continually ensuring that the coachee grants permission for where the coach may want to take the conversation. It does not matter how powerful the coach thinks his or her methodology is, it is only as powerful as the coachee will permit.