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Coaching to a New York City State of Mind

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The third Intersection strategy suggested by Johansson is the reversal of assumptions. A coach can be particularly helpful in facilitating this reversal. As Argyris and Schön (1974) and their very successful protégé, Peter Senge (1990) have noted, we move through the world with many untested assumptions (what they identify as the “left column”) which profoundly influence the way in which we interact with other people (and Johansson would add, the way in which we interact with ideas). I have written about the use of coaching techniques that surface and test these assumptions in a recent book, coauthored with my colleague, Agnes Mura. (Bergquist and Mura, 2011) Our description of “decisional-coaching” is particularly appropriate, though Johansson moves further than we do in encouraging not only surfacing and testing the accuracy of assumptions, but also reversing these assumptions.  Mura and I identify a similar strategy (the “absurd suggestion”) in describing the Argyris and Schön-derived coaching strategy called “advocacy-inviting-inquiry”. (Bergquist and Mura, 2011, p. 283)

Fourth, Johansson invites us to try on different perspectives. This means viewing a specific issue from several different angles. Many years ago I worked with a woman who taught drawing at a Chicago-area university. She would invite her students to sit in a circle, surrounding a still-life (fruit, several goblets and a ceramic bowl). She would have them draw what they saw and once they had done so, would have them compare their own drawing with those drawn by the other students.  Not only would different drawing styles (and skills) be on display, but also different perspectives on the still life. I invited my colleague to try out this same studio technique in non-art-related settings. What would it look like to view a philosophical issue from multiple perspectives—or a novel? She thrived in this work, creating studios in many different settings, working with faculty members from diverse academic disciplines in her own university. As coaches, how do we emulate this art teacher, encouraging our client to study their coaching issues from diverse perspectives? How do we create a coaching studio for our client? As Johansson notes, Intersections increase with a greater diversity in perspective. When wandering through New York City, we can’t help but notice the rich interplay of sights and sounds. This diversity encourages us (even forces us) to view the world from multiple points of view. We are not just viewing a still-life from different parts of the room—the still life is itself constantly changing! As a coach, how do we create this New York City State of Mind in our client—without having to travel to the Big Apple?

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