Coaching Fundamentals Part Six: Imagery

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September 16th, 2015

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What does the word Imagery conjure up for you? Illustrations, art, colourful graphics? Using non-verbal tools, such as colouring pencils or symbol cards, with clients? While helpful, these are not quite the approaches I had in mind. I was thinking of something far more basic than that…

Something that, in other approaches, could be called “clean”, or even “person-centred”. In coaching, it is as simple as “staying in the client’s world-view” and operating from there. Listening to the metaphors and language they use to describe their world, and – without asking for explanation or correcting – staying in that frame of reference.

Some clients may see the world as a battle, or a tangled web, or a ship on stormy seas, a box, a set of folders, a jungle… the options are almost endless, and as varied as the clients’ embedded experience.

shutterstock_201704261Staying with their imagery and asking questions or offering feedback from that place is one of those things I have only learnt from practice, rather than from books and coaching models. No coach training quite prepares you for the depth of disconnect that you get when you use a slightly wrong metaphor with a client; the sensation that you have just brought them back to earth with a thud, when they reconnect with purely their logical side, full of well-practised verbal arguments.

And this is not the side where change happens… This is the side of debate, monologue, a question and answer session, perfectly reasonable, perfectly polite, perfectly ineffective.

Only when we connect with the somewhat messier (in the sense of not being so easily predictable) side of imag-ination and imagery, can we affect real change. It is akin to speaking the client’s mother tongue, instead of the one they’ve learnt at school, in society, or in the workplace. It’s the language of stories and dreams, exploration and imagination.

It is also the starting place for changing that worldview, if both sides decide it is being outmoded or unhelpful. But the change has to start from there, like any effective change, by accepting what is.