TO CHANGE OR NOT TO CHANGE
Using Opposite Poles In Coaching
When you are on the cusp of change, you are at an intersection, poised between two, opposite directions. In Gestalt coaching, we call these opposite directions “poles,” like the North and South poles.
In one direction, you are drawn toward the change you think you want to make. A client says, “I want to free myself to be a more strategic leader by developing the leaders who work for me.” The change you want to make could be a business need, a longing, a vision, an aspiration—or some combination.
The opposite pole is a pull in the direction of stasis or staying put. When I ask, “what keeps you where you are?” my client answers, “I’m much too busy to spend the time it’ll take to develop the leaders who work for me” and then, “besides, I can’t possibly change right now because I’ve got deadlines and…” She adds several compelling reasons.
As a coach, I encourage my client to explore both poles. As we do so, I check in on myself. As a coach, it is easy to have a bias toward change. After all, isn’t a coach’s job to help clients move toward change?
Actually not. The coach is there to help you explore, understand, and feel your way through unfamiliar territory. Albeit with a lot of specialized skills and frameworks, we are fellow explorers. One of our jobs is to assist you in getting to know what, in group process, Sam Kaner aptly calls “the groan zone” where, in a problem-solving process, a direction and course of action are not yet clear.
So, my client and I explore both poles. My clients are organizational leaders, so they are familiar with some of the ways to conceptualize the pull toward change—visioning and planning, for example. Most are less familiar with exploring the opposite pole—the pull toward staying put. At this pole are commitments that are strong and often hidden from awareness. At this pole are habits, mental maps, and patterns of experience that have long worked for you—at least in certain ways.
My client says, “I’m so used to staying busy that I don’t know how to be any other way.” So we explore how busy-ness serves useful purposes while also preventing her from operating in new ways. Underneath this habituated need to stay busy are assumptions that are so deeply embedded that she can no longer see them.
While we explore the pull toward stasis, I acknowledge and honor these old assumptions and commitments that contribute to my client’s staying put. How very well they have served this successful leader, whose productivity, smarts and drive propelled her to the top.
At this point in our exploration, my client and I might co-create some small experiments to get to know both poles better. I am not trying to generalize about what happens in every coaching session, but rather, illustrating something about the nature of change.
Change is paradoxical. It happens not by assuming a position, “I’m going to change,” but by exploring a dynamic play of polar opposites. At one pole: learning about and therefore more fully being who you are right now. At the opposite pole: wanting and envisioning movement toward something new. When we understand both what holds us in place and what impels us to change, we are able to see possibilities, free ourselves up, decide, and commit.