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Development of Coaches: IX. Summary Report for Phase One

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I noted previously that Daniel Kahneman’s fast thinking seems to align with the “soft” coaching processes, while his slow thinking aligns with the “hard” processes. I would now add the dimension of influence and learning, suggesting that “soft” learning is interwoven with “soft” coaching processes and “fast” thinking. As coaches, we are most likely to learn about the “soft” processes of learning from our interaction with clients–rather than from books, training or supervision. These “hard” sources of learning are more closely associated with “hard” coaching processes and “Slow” thinking.

We are not as comfortable with these more challenging aspects of our work as coaches, though we might find that “hard” coaching, “hard” learning and “slow” thinking are prevalent during our early years of coaching, whereas “soft” coaching, “soft” learning and “fast” thinking more commonly operate when we gain further experience as coaches. Much as we must use our expository brain when first learning any skilled actions (such as driving a car or playing tennis), we rely more on our procedural brain when these actions have been performed repeatedly.

On the one hand, this shift to the procedural brain is good news, because we can be thinking about the bigger picture (such as the actions of other drivers on the highway, or the strategy being used by our tennis opponent). On the other hand, this shift can lead to deeply engrained habits that are hard to break and are not easily modified as conditions in our world change. As coaches, we might too often rely on our habitual patterns of interaction with clients, rather than thinking more slowly, engaging the “hard” process of strategizing as a coach, and retreating to the books, attending a relevant coaching seminar, or even seeking out supervision.

Behavioral economists, such as Kahneman, write about something called “heuristics” which are these habitual, fast thinking-based rules that we apply (often indiscriminately) to addressing problems and making predictions in our everyday life. As coaches, we invite our clients to explore these heuristics. Perhaps, we should at the same time become aware of these distorting heuristics in our own daily life and coaching practice.

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