Home Concepts Best Practices Coaching in Organizations: A Status Report (Past, Present and Future)

Coaching in Organizations: A Status Report (Past, Present and Future)

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Neutral vs. Normative

At another level, we see this pull between pain-reduction and problem-solving in the presence of something called “cooling-off-the-mark” in the professional of coaching (and in many other human service fields as well). Erving Goffman introduced this concept in describing the ways in which legitimate grievances are stifled and painful conflict is avoided. At a carnival, the customer (called the “mark”) is encouraged to play arcade games (such as knocking over the milk bottles) that are rigged. If a “mark” becomes upset because the milk bottles he is hitting with the baseballs he is throwing don’t tip over, then a second customer will come up to the booth, also attempting to hit and tip over the bottles. After appearing to be equally as “frustrated” with the failure to tip the bottles (and win the prize) the second customer invites the first (the “mark”) to go off and join him for a beer or cup of coffee. This second customer is actually hired by the carnival to “cool off” the mark, thereby helping the carnival owners avoid any confrontation with the local police.

To what extent, do professional coaches enter the business of “cooling off the mark” when they begin working with clients inside organizations – especially if the coaching is being offered as part of an outplacement package for employees who have been victims of downsizing, outsourcing or reorganization. Pain is reduced and the “mark” is appeased – but what about the legitimate grievance and the deep-rooted organizational problems that need to be addressed? The social-critical (“Continental”) school of organizational analysis poses just such a question. It is often identified with the neo-Marxist perspectives of many European theorists—such as Michel Foucault, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer—as well as a few North American theorists—such as Nevitt Sanford, Christopher Lasch and Richard Sennett.

While this “Continental” school is rarely found to be influential in the work being done by most organizational (or personal) coaches, the questions that it generates are certainly consequential and should be addressed at least tangentially by Rachel and Sam. In general, professional coaches and their clients might wish to consider how the client’s organization and its leaders can avoid the organizational convulsions that often lead to very painful job-loss and life-displacements? There is no need to “cool off the mark” if the organization’s leaders are making thoughtful decisions based on principles of equity and fairness. An organization can address the immediate concerns and stresses experienced by organizational “marks” through personal coaching (related to career counseling and life planning)—but what about these broader, organizational issues? Are the right men and women being served by the coaches?

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