Listen to an interview here with Suzi Crockford, Dartmoor writer and shamanic practitioner, on how to represent non-human voices with respect and authenticity. Recorded as part of the MA Poetics of Imagination student blog.
Listen to an audio story I wrote and recorded as part of my MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School here
I recently met up with another coach, Daniel Doherty of the Critical Coaching Group. Although we have been in some of the same networks, I hadn’t met him before. After our meeting, over a cup of tea in a hotel bar, he emailed me a summary of what we’d spoken about: the topics of mutual interest we had covered, the areas and people we had in common, and a summary of what we had agreed to take forward.
This wasn’t a coaching session, simply a meeting, but I was moved by the care he had taken to thoughtfully summarise what was said. I felt valued, and deeply listened to, because he had taken the time to do it.
It struck me how precious a resource time has become, and how rarely we have the privilege of someone helping us to reflect upon our words and actions. Certainly within the workplaces I’ve been in it is rare to receive such a summary, and even rarer that it is comprehensive and covers more than the agreed actions. I know that I often intend to follow up meetings, particularly developmental ones such as coaching and supervision sessions, in this way but am not always as consistent or thorough as I would like to be. It is so easy to feel the pressure of things to be done next and lose the preciousness of the moments that have just gone.
I feel this is one reason why coaching has flourished. Time and attention are limited, and to have someone spend theirs on and with you, particularly if they are trained and practiced in helping you use it in a generative way, is invaluable to our wellbeing and growth. Just this week I ran an internal coaching skills training for Occupational Therapists and their teams, and they were surprised how valuable and how much ground could be covered in just ten minutes of focussed peer coaching. Coaching is not only one way to access this precious resource, but it is an increasingly popular one because it does not require you to be simultaneously part of a family, social, organisational, educational, spiritual or other relationship that can shift the balance away from what you really need to engage with most.
Although I adore working as a formal, one-to-one coach, one of things Daniel and I discussed was the maturity of the external coaching market and the increasing emphasis on building coaching skills within the workplace. A growing strand of my work, such as this week’s workshop, is to equip those who hold influence over the wellbeing and development of others in organisations – primarily managers – to have high quality conversations. Receiving this written summary reminded me once again just how important listening is, and how simple practices can contribute to building organisational cultures that support thoughtful and reflective dialogue.
I was recently invited to join a Whatsapp group of coaches for the SheLeadsChange women's leadership programme.
When the other women introduced themselves, I was overwhelmed and deeply impressed by the calibre, experience and passion of the group.
And yet, as someone who had been invited to support and provide opportunities for development and supervision to the group, it also, unexpectedly, triggered a huge impostor response.
It took a couple of days to figure out what the feeling was, but then I sat down quietly and faced, explored and challenged it in much the same way I would with a client: using deep listening, compassion, questioning enquiry and postive reframing. I've mapped below my thoughts, responses and mental and emotional process as an illustration of how coaching works, in this case internally, to shift aspects of ourselves.
How do I respond to all the amazing introductions in a group like this?
Do you hear how everyone sounds like you, but in a good light, perhaps on a good day, maybe on one of your best ever days?
Do you assume the others must have been in bright, shiny groups for so long they’ve forgotten how not to be confident, polished, gifted and self-aware?
Do you, like me, find your mind comparing their skills and experiences to yours (and finding yourself lacking)?
Do you wonder if you are in competition, that we may be playing at collaboration ('cos when the buck stops, whose interests are gonna come first)?
Blinded by the bright, shiny light of the multiple lenses of leadership champions, change consultants, directors of social enterprises, published academics, executive coaches and positive champions of everything important and meaningful (that you would have championed if you had only thought of it first), do you feel your own bright, shiny light dimming?
Does it make the doubting, introverted part of you escape into its swirly shell or put on its performer’s cloak? (Neither of which really help you be truly authentic, which further reinforces the self-critique)
Or, when you look more closely, do you see in yourself only the distorted reflections, the warts, the bulges and the scars of your less salubrious and traumatised angles? Because when we look deeply enough the whole world reveals this (Climate Crisis? Refugees? False news?)
When I am supposed to be there to support, guide and inspire you all, and am intimidated by the phenomenal weight of that task?
So… I decide I need to shift the lense, to acknowledge but guide this old voice that has surprised me again, as its perspective is too weighty, too ancient and hung low in the rusty habit patterns of my mind.
I ask myself to draw on my inner wisdom, act as a coach to myself, recalibrate as I help others to.
The questions flow…
What unmet need may be colouring my response from a quite unrelated part of my being? (These beautiful, sunshine-filled mornings have filtered through the bedroom blinds at 5am and disturbed my final hours of deep sleep. And yes, I’ve been a bit too busy and with a house full of visitors and crave some quiet time. And, if I pause and listen further, there’s a shiver of residual trauma from a few years back, almost healed but sometimes its ghosts re-emerge where there's a lack of safety suspected…).
What beliefs or assumptions are you making that may not be valid here? (That I’m not sufficiently experienced or qualified – an old but deeply engrained habit, and I know this immediately to be untrue).
What does this part of me need right now? (to be acknowledged, soothed, and calmed. I invite compassion to flow towards the voice, softening the edges of the physical sensations, offering kindness and a space to feel).
The final question - what might be possible if I were to step beyond this old way of thinking? - is no longer required. Because once acknowledged and calmed, an insight naturally arises that it is amazing that all these brilliant, shiny women are able to sustain themselves in our imperfect world – whether this is emotionally, financially or both. And that means that the world is recognising that what we offer has value.
I can now appreciate how wonderful it is to see that others hold a similar faith. I can now believe that we can begin to harmonise and balance the dark underworlds we may have traversed or know deep in our ancestral bones (and which often feed those unhelpful inner voices). To do this requires many of us to meet, and expand, our desire for good into its rightful place as a foundational pillar of the way we live.
We certainly can’t do that alone. The world is held up by all of our shoulders.
So… isn’t it amazing that we can come together to celebrate what we have already done, share what we are doing, and support each other in what is to come?
For not all corners of this world have the right pillars, and many spaces are still dark. It will take a whole band of bright, shiny women to light those places up.
Guiding the old impostor voice in this direction helps me see all your resplendence, and reveals its shimmer within me, too. I can now honour your difference, and welcome you - on your best days and equally on your worst (because I know what that’s like, too). Now I am ready to co-create a space with you all and help us reach further than the doubting voices within would ever consider possible.
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