Notes on stuff

Tagged Posts: Coaching

Links for 2013-02-04

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2013-02-04:

Talking about Time

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Time Lines

Where’s your future?

Where’s your past?


Let me re-phrase that.

Think of something mundane that is going to happen tomorrow – perhaps brushing your teeth in the morning. Notice where you represent that idea, in the space around or inside you. Think now of something a little further into the future – next week perhaps – and notice where that is.

Repeat for a couple of other things, perhaps your next birthday or Christmas.

Now think about the past – an event yesterday, last week, last year, earlier in your life. Notice where in the space around or inside you that you think of those things.

Imagine now a line that joins up all of those points – from your furthest past memory through the current moment and on into the future. In NLP that imaginary line is called your time line, a metaphor that is used in a great many forms of powerful personal changework. For the moment just notice where the current moment is – specifically is it inside or outside your body?

Metaphors of Time

All languages use space or position as a metaphor for time. The idea that the metaphors we use are closely bound to the way we structure our thoughts was first expressed a quarter of a century ago by Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors We Live By. Inspired by Lakoff and Johnson the early developers of NLP began to create the time line model.

Many processes have been developed that use the metaphor of Time As A Line to change the way people think about the past, the present and the future. Metaphor is a meta-stating process (i.e. a thought about a thought) so immediately adds a level of [bliki]disassociation[/bliki], a powerful tool to allow people to think about challenging events in their lives without being swamped in feelings.

As a coach I find that talking people through an exploration of how they think about life using the metaphor of a time line to guide reflection, re-consider past events or rehearse alternative futures is a very powerful conversational intervention.

In-Time and Through-Time

Remember I asked you to pay particular attention to where you represented your sense of the current moment? Lakoff and Johnson observed that in Indo-European language-speakers there is approximately a 50-50 split between people who think of the current moment as being inside their body and people who think of the current moment as being outside their body, usually just in front of them. NLP labels these two most common representations of the passage of time as [bliki]In Time[/bliki] and [bliki]Through Time[/bliki] respectively.

A lot of changework processes use manipulation of these mental models as a way of accessing new ways of thinking. For example how good are you at future planning? If you feel that you could do better then try imagining future events in a more [bliki]Through Time[/bliki] way i.e. mapped out in front of you as if on a wallchart or planner and see what difference that makes. Many people find a positive difference from this sort of work, but nearly everyone expresses some inner tension or discomfort when they first try to think of time in a different way – these models go right to the core of our way of being in the world and change can have significant effects on the way we perceive things.

The Connection Between Language and Thought

Further work by Lakoff and Johnson, and many others in the field of cognitive linguistics, has extended the thinking – for example this study.

New research shows that the metaphor which is used could depend on the native language of the person concerned. Laura Spinney, in the Guardian article How Time Flies [via Tom Coates] reports on research by Rafael Núñez and Eve Sweetser with the Aymara people from the Chilean Andes. There’s more detail in this presentation from Vyv Evans at the University of Sussex which summarises the field and has a long list of references to follow.

The Aymara study is the first documented research finding evidence of a group of people with a reversed sense of time. When talking about long time spans the Aymara seem to have a [bliki]Through Time[/bliki] model, when talking about shorter periods (up to several generations) they seem to exhibit a reversed [bliki]In Time[/bliki] model, with the past in front and the future behind:

When they talked about very wide time spans, their gestures indicated that they conceived of it spanning from left to right, excluding themselves. But when they talked about shorter spans, several generations say, the axis was front-back, with them at point zero. The gestures of the old man and the woman discussing their grandparents confirmed that they really did think of the past as in front of them.

This particular and (so far) unique way of modelling time seems intimately associated with the Aymara language:

In 1975, Andrew Miracle and Juan de Dios Yapita Moya, both at the University of Florida, observed that q”ipüru , the Aymara word for tomorrow, combines q”ipa and uru , the word for day, to produce a literal meaning of “some day behind one’s back


Aymara marks whether the speaker saw the action happen or not: “Yesterday my mother cooked potatoes (but I did not see her do it).”

If these markers are left out, the speaker is regarded as boastful or a liar. Thirty years ago, Miracle and Yapita pointed to the often incredulous responses of Aymara to some written texts: “‘Columbus discovered America’ – was the author actually there?” In a language so reliant on the eyewitness, it is not surprising that the speaker metaphorically faces what has already been seen: the past.

From an NLP approach we might predict some consequences from this model – in particular we might speculate that the Aymara would not have a well-developed sense of future planning because the future is literally behind them – this seems to be born out by Miracle and Yapita’s observation of the “great patience” of the Aymara. (The Aymara Language and Its Social and Cultural Context)

Making Time Work For You

So how do you think about time?

What happens if you move those representations around?

Play with your timeline and see what happens…

The importance of knowing what you want

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Joe Ely writes about Lean Manufacturing Systems. One of the core tenets of Lean is to gather frequent feedback about the difference between what you planned to do and what you actually did, reflect on the difference and do something about it. The key thing is doing something about it. Today he tells a story about the importance of knowing what is wanted before you can take action.

This reminded me strongly of the concept of well-formed outcomes – one of the foundation stones of NLP. I find that often one of the most powerful coaching interventions is simply helping someone gain a clear view of what they want to happen and the nature of the first few steps. Something very powerful gets triggered in the unconscious mind by a clear view of what you want and many people report that change begins to happen shortly afterwards.

The perfectionist definition of good enough

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This one from Curt Rosengren seemed worth a mention – The perfectionist definition of “good enough” – it’s a pattern I’ve seen in a few high-performing coaching clients too.

Coaching as Mutual Knowledge Creation – 2

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Continuing to develop thoughts on CoachingAsKnowledgeCreation
(see earlier).

I’ve started collecting links on different knowledge models at CoachingKnowledgeResearch

MT macro for Wiki name obviously not working yet!

Coaching As Knowledge Creation

I was talking about the coaching process with my Coaching Supervisor. we were discussing the implicit power-relationship in coaching (Expert – Novice) and how we could work with any positive aspects of that and reduce any negative aspects.

I wondered if it was useful to think of the coaching process as a form of mutual learning – or indeed as a form of mutual knowledge creation…

continued on the wiki

Solution-focused Coaching part 2

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I’m indebted to my colleague (and coaching supervisor) Jenny Mitchell _(no online reference available)_ who, after reading my earlier article on Solution-focused Coaching has sent me a large stack of references and related reading:

* Harry Enfield, Hamlet and the Solutions Focus

* A Comparison of Appreciative Inquiry and Solutions Focus

* The Solutions Focus: Keeping It SIMPLE In The Learning Organisation

* Solution focused Corporate Coaching _[HTML converson from Word via Google]_

* Classic Models – Solution-Focused Coaching

* “Solutions-focus and the five messages of the Schnpper” by Peter Szabo _[no online version found]_

Also Mark McKergow, author of several of the articles listed above commented on my earlier entry flagging up his web site and book The Solutions Focus: The SIMPLE Way To Positive Change (haven’t read the book yet so can’t comment on it…)

Solution-focused Coaching

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I went to a seminar last week on this topic given by Harvey Ratner from the Brief Consultancy.

Solution-focused Coaching is the application of the Solution-focused Brief Therapy approach to coaching. In outline the approach seems to be:

* Elicit client’s “best hopes” for the meeting
* Elicit client’s ideal future
* Identify signs that progress has been made already
* Calibrate where the client thinks he/she is and what would be needed to make an incremental improvement

the whole thing infused with lots of positive feedback about what is working, a constant drawing-out of sensory descriptions of the desired state, an exploration of different perceptual positions and an underlying assumption that the client will develop his/her own detailed action plans…

One of the key differences from other approaches seems to be the future bias – in NLP terms a lot of focus on helping the client build a really strong representation of the “Desired State” (DS), combined with “ecology” checks, exploration of different perceptual positions and lots of reinforcement of the client’s resources.

I would tend to do most of that in my normal coaching approach but I would also spend time exploring the current state (CS) and why it was persistent – looking for ways to loosen the “stuckness”. When another participant asked about this Harvey’s response was that from a solution-focused point of view any time spent talking about “now” rather than “then” tended to strengthen the hold of the past/present…

During the seminar we did a couple of exercises, one of which was related to the “calibration” stage – a very simple question “thinking about your job, and your ideal situation, where would you say you had got to on a scale of 0 – 10″ [...] “and what tells you that you are that point and not a 0?” [...] “and what do others see you doing that contributes to you being at that point?” (of course the skill is in the way the questioner asks the questions and especially in the way they keep going to elicit more and more…)

Being on the receiving end of that questioning (even though I “knew” it was “just” an exercise) I was surprised by the sense of momentum and energy that was created in me by an in-depth appraisal of all the good things I have already achieved.

I can see how that energy focuses the mind so that the “and what would you have to do to just add one point on the scale?” questions trigger “it’s obvious…” answers from the client, perhaps also how that energy combined with the “pull” of a clear desired future would be enough to unstick from the power of the past. I’m very tempted to take a training in the approach, certainly I shall spend some time reflecting how I can usefully strengthen my coaching with what I’ve learned.

Whilst musing about that sudden rush of energy I was also reminded of the Appreciative Inquiry approach to organisational change – again that focuses on what already works with a team, in an organisation, as a prelude to moving on to even better things – on the surface the parallels seem obvious, but I need to think a bit more about whether there might be an underlying model that could explain both…

Lean Project Management – it’s about what you notice

Over at Reforming Project Management Hal Macomber is seeking to transfer the learning from Lean Production into the project management world.

In Lean Production there exists the concept of the “visual workplace”, commonly expressed through the 5S model. Hal points out that projects may not always involve material products and resources but always involve people and conversations; it therefore makes sense to translate the 5S model into what he calls the 5R Protocol for a Listening Workplace:

  1. Roles
  2. Rules
  3. Reflection
  4. Relationships
  5. Routines

What’s interesting is the way his own thinking is developing as he reflects on this model and the conditions that need to be in place for real changes to happen – critically the need for having the right mental distinctions to notice what is really important and then taking action based on those distinctions:

What we notice has to do with the distinctions we can make and the routines that we follow. Both our noticing and effectiveness in action increase as we take action. If we want to work in a lean way we need the distinctions of lean and we need to take action. [...] Learning to operate in a lean way happens by doing projects in a lean way.

For me this sits well with the model of cognition used by NLP:
Our habitual perceptual filters control what we actually notice in our surroundings – an engineer will notice different things from an HR expert. The mental programs we use (or habitual ways of thinking) will then influence what meaning we ascribe to those things and therefore influence our conscious intent about what to do. Those same mental programs will distort our conscious intent into our everyday strategies, which in turn result in actions and words that fit with our perceptual filters. The whole system is both recursive and self-reinforcing – the success of actions we take in the world tends to strengthen the perceptual filters and mental programs that led to us choosing those actions.

In such a model changing behaviour often needs the conscious adoption of new filters and disctinctions re-inforced by action until new unconscious mental programs take hold. This is where coaching is especially useful to remind the person who is changing what they should be paying attention to.

What Hal is doing with his 5R model is start to express the things that make a difference in order to get “Lean Projects” right – it will be interesting to see how he develops this into practical tools that can not only be applied but through their application embed new ways of thinking.

Theory-in-Use meets Neuro-Semantics

Another piece of the jigsaw I started in the previous articleCoaching: Dealing with subliminal �Theories in Use” from Neuro-Semanticist Armand Kruger [via OnePine ]

Systems Thinking for Relationships

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In today’s Observer magazine Andrew G Marshall writes about his application of ideas from Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point to the field of couples counselling.

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