This piece was published on RSA comment.
I was sitting down to write this comment piece when the phone rang. A gentleman (let’s call him John, and sorry to the John’s out there) who I think was calling from overseas tried very hard, in the opening 30 seconds of the call, to verify my name, postcode, marital status, and interest me in sorting out the problem he was certain I had with my laptop. Miracle of miracles, John said they somehow knew that my laptop was in dire need and on the verge of total collapse, complete data loss and endless viral attacks; all of which could be averted by signing up for their amazingly low priced (I don’t think so) maintenance contract! I kind of nearly shouted something rude down the phone then just said ‘Ciao’ and put the phone down on John. How rude of me. Ruffled I sat down to restart this piece and realised that this was a perfect example of what I am about to write about. Bear with me.
Connection is a buzz word. Get connected! Let’s connect! We connected last night! It is used in all kinds of contexts and covers as many types of situations as can be imagined. From my perch as a coach there are three components to human connection.
First there must be a method or structure of communication; think phone, TV, email, newspaper, blog, mutually agreed appointment to which you both turn up, even carrier pigeon and so on. (John used the landline). Then there is the chosen language, the written or spoken word, the sound, music, the code if you like (John used a base of English with some quirky colloquial bits and pieces). Finally and most importantly there is the nature of the whole connection itself.
Coaching is primarily concerned with this nature of the connection as the departure point or bedrock of the coaching relationship. The key component is the underlying core beliefs the parties about to communicate hold about each other. These core beliefs colour the whole relationship. If you think a person is incompetent then no matter how much you try to mask that belief it percolates as a subtle energy through the relationship, informing the feeling and nature of how you connect with the person. If you hold a person as creative, resourceful and whole (as I do in the coach – client relationship) then this also impacts on the energy of the relationship.
John made many assumptions in his approach to me. That I had spare time, inclination, was stupid, malleable, ignorant about computers, fearful and weak willed and perhaps most insulting of all, stupid enough to not back up my data. Ok I have not done so for a few weeks but all the same…..really! These assumptions are a product of what’s underneath them, how John was holding me as a fellow human being. Clearly he was not holding me as creative, resourceful and whole.
So whether in the doctors surgery with the receptionist, at work with your manager or in the corner shop or with the guy who tries to flog you a maintenance contract for your laptop the nature of the connection is what defines our feelings and responses to all these interactions regardless of the actual ability of the doctor, the skills of your manager or the quality of the goods in the shop (maybe John does offer a good service, we’ll never know).
I attended the RSA Whole Person Recovery project seminar in Peterborough a few weeks ago as I specialise in recovery coaching. In the main those attending were managing, developing and supplying various services to the community focussed around recovery from substance use and addiction. You could say that the focus of the speakers and the break out groups was centred on consideration of the structure and language of the connection to their service users. Important and valuable work but what I would have liked to have been able to spend a lot more time on was the nature of the way all these services and service users were connected, for it is in the nature of the connection where the real power and impact of these services can be accessed for service users.
And this is where the real power of understanding and working with the nature of the connection lies. Often we already have valuable and well financed services and resources and this may not be perceived by those who use those services. This perception is fundamentally shaped by the nature of the connection between those responsible for running and delivering those services with each other and then with the community they serve.
The nature of the connection is the foundation on which we build a coaching relationship. Once this nature is created it provides a launch pad for real achievement, personal transformation and fulfilment. Given what the RSA stands for and the focus and activity of its fellows I hope to bring coaching in the form of an RSA Coaching Network into the heart of what the RSA does and supports it’s fellows to do. If we all pay attention deeply enough to the nature of how we are connected and if we can let that foundation be creativity, resourcefulness and wholeness then even greater positive changes can be made.
I am sorry I have given John such a hard time. My wife says he’s just trying to make a living. If he calls back I might just offer him a few coaching sessions!
Anthony Eldridge Rogers (FRSA) is a coach, (recovery, business, leadership) Recovey Coach Trainer & Social Entrepreneur.