Coaching Fundamentals Part Four: Multiplicity


September 2nd, 2015

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One of the biggest transformations in my coaching practice came when I attended a Transpersonal coaching workshop with Sir John Whitmore (widely regarded as the founder of coaching in the UK) some ten years ago. The first words he wrote on the flipchart before even addressing us were: This is not the truth. Coming from the author of the GROW model (which by then I had found to be too simplistic, too literal and too restrictive), and seeing how lightly he took even his own wisdom, was the moment when I decided that coaching was a lifelong practice for me.

Beyond this personal story, why is multiplicity so important in coaching? We’ve already explored feedback as a way of offering different perspectives: not right, not wrong, not fixed, just different.  Acknowledging, and using, multiple perspectives is the next step in a developing coaching practice.

shutterstock_300841517What does multiplicity mean in practical terms? It simply means that there are many sides to each story, many lenses in each kaleidoscope, many ways of looking, seeing, interpreting and judging reality. Acknowledging this takes away the need – felt by many – to try and disprove the other point of view as a way of making one’s own view relevant. It also takes away the need to keep fruitlessly looking for “the right way”, “the right tool”, “the right insight”. They are all right. And they are all equally wrong.

Acknowledging multiplicity also means we can identify different voices in our heads: the voice of the critical teacher (or parent, or spouse, or boss); the voice of the indulgent child (“oh go on then…”); the voice of our own cheerleader (“come on, you can do it!”); the voice of despondency and doubt (“you are rubbish and you’ll be found out”). Both the coach and the client can choose to adopt – or listen to – any of these (and many more) voices. But they are not the only choice.

One of the most important roles that a coach can play is reminding the client of this. Reminding them to refrain from identifying with any one single voice, to refrain from believing it as it was the truth and nothing but the truth. Reminding them that hearing – and acknowledging – those different voices in our head does not mean that we are mad. Rather, that we are sane and wise for knowing that we cannot be wholly defined by any single one of those voices.

If a client is struggling to release a particular voice or world-view, one of the ways I have helped them was to ask them to describe that voice – and the person it belongs to – in full detail. Their size, colour, shape, name, pitch, markings… Often the more critical or unhelpful the voice, the more comical it became once we investigated it thoroughly. It transformed into an angry little demon, or a shrill-pitched school-mistress, or a needy child, who was only shouting for attention because it wasn’t getting any. Once seen this way, most clients are able to make considered choices about whether they want to integrate, change, or discard that part of themselves.


anaAna is Programme Director of our Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching which is a masters qualification for experienced coaches.