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Coaching on Behalf of the Environment

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William Bergquist conducted an interview with Don Maruska, a noted author, consultant and coach who directs much of his time, energy and expertise to a foundational (“bedrock”) interest in the preservation of our threatened environment. Following is this recorded interview



Some of the key points that Don Maruska made in this interview are:

  1. The complex environmental issues we are facing (including those related to climate change) are tightly interwoven with the other major societal challenges we are facing, for those who are most profoundly impacted by environmental degradation are those who are poor, marginalized and discriminated against.
  2. Through coaching, we can enhance our response to what needs to be done in our communities—and in our world.
  3. Coaching is an appropriate strategy (among many others) to help enhance our response, because it helps each client determine how best to get from where we are right now to where they think we should be (with regard to creation of not just a sustainable environment, but one that is thriving).
  4. As a coach, I am not an expert on the environment, but I do know something about how to boost and amplify what people are already doing on behalf of the environment.
  5. Research has shown that five expressions of approval and support for what people are already doing that is effective should be provided to offset any one critique. Five to one is the optimal ratio of positive to negative feedback.
  6. This is a strength-based approach that effective coaching can offer and that is critically needed in a world where we now focus on what is wrong with what other people have to offer. We begin with the assumption that at some level all people have good intentions. It is our role as coaches to help clarify these intensions and lead our clients to effective action (based on what they have already done that has been successful).
  7. Issues such as climate change and social injustice create fear in all of us, and lead us to fall back upon the worst part of our self—we set aside our better nature and our good intentions.
  8. People can rally and be courageous when there is an immediate crisis—but what do we do when there is a chronic crisis such as climate change? How do we get people to mobilize their better selves in these situations? Many of the challenges we are facing are chronic in nature: mental health, poverty, social injustice, environmental deterioration. We can’t just swat at these challenging issues and hope that they will go away. We must find new ways of approaching these chronic issues.
  9. Our brains are wired to handle the acute situations – the immediate crises. This is the survival instinct at play. This is our fear response. We must help people “change their default settings” (the automatic, preprogrammed way in which they deal with crises/threats)
  10. Central to the process of coaching is listening. People don’t care what you think until they know that you care. And we are likely to conclude that someone cares about us when we feel that they have been listening to us.
  11. If we are coaching other people about the environment, then we need to begin with our actions regarding the environment. What can I do myself about the environment? This is a matter of integrity. In taking action ourselves, we are creating a bank of stories that we can share with those people we are coaching.
  12. As a coach, we should be asking of our clients” why is that important to you?” And we keep moving with our clients to a deeper place – to their “bedrock” – their fundamental values and intentions. We help our clients discover what they are hoping for – not just what they are expecting. Expectations are the handmaiden of fear. There is never enough and we are never happy if we aren’t clear about the bedrock inherent in our hopes.
  13. We can invite our clients to think differently about the issues they are addressing. For instance, what can nature teach us about how to solve our recurrent problems? Perhaps we need to look more closely at how our environment works and apply these lessons to the challenges we face. Most importantly, we need to move beyond the immediate, short-term solutions (that usually backfire) to longer-term, systemic solutions (such as we find in nature).
  14. Fundamentally, we are talking about “healthy” coaching. Just as nature can be re-generative (if we allow it to operate in an organic manner), so coaching can be regenerative for us and our clients. Our great calling is where the world’s great needs and our great joy intersect.
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