Coaching – The Rise of Immersion

Tom GibbonsCoaching, Complexity, Organization Development, Social Construction, UncertaintyLeave a Comment

Our last 2 posts have dealt with changes that we see as needed and inevitable as the world of coaching changes.  These two posts can be read here: The Socialization of Coaching and Coaching – The Decline of Analysis .  This post focuses on the real challenge and need for the coach to immerse themselves in the context and process of their specific coaching engagements.  To be active participants in the process and perhaps most importantly to realize that their simple presence in the process makes a difference that they have very little influence over.

Immersion in our coaching work acknowledges what is actually happening in our interactions, to be part of them rather than separate observers of them.  There are challenges here that strike at the very core of the assumptions much current coaching work rest on.

We can look at immersion as one end of a continuum:

Abstraction ————————————————————————– Immersion

The other end of the continuum is abstraction, that being a separate and detached state.  The psychological approach to coaching with its reliance on analysis leans much closer to abstraction.  The rise of immersion in coaching work will bring some needed balance to this work.

One of the challenges with immersion however is that it acknowledges the uncertainty of coaching work and this is often not comfortable for coaches.  This uncertainty is a result of the simple presence of the coach and their various biases and assumptions.  An overbalance to the psychological approach assumes that the coach can abstract themselves far enough away from the scenario that their biases and assumptions will not affect the work.  While I would contend that this is not possible the real key point here is that we cannot make the same assumptions regarding the coachee and their relationship with the coach.

If we look at the model we use for organizational work, including coaching we can place both abstraction and immersion into that model and see where this uncertainty comes from.

Infinity interaction process 1

In terms of the model above a psychological abstracted approach tends to focus on what we call the left hand loop, that being the pattern of interaction and experience.  The coach looks for repetitive patterns here that either need to be changed or reinforced and makes recommendations to the coachee regarding this.  The line from intentions to interaction tends to be dealt with in the ‘contracting’ phase of the coaching work and it is assumed that there is some type of gap between the left hand loop and the intentions that need to be closed.  As we’ve noted in other posts, closing this gap tends to be considered primarily the role of the coachee.

Immersion focuses primarily on interaction and what is happening in the present moment.  A very important part of this is that interaction takes the form of gesture and response, typically between 2 or more people.  The risk of the psychological model of coaching is the assumption that if you get the gesture right as a coach, through excellent analysis, the response from the coachee should be one of agreement and (hopefully) acceptance to change  However if we look at the tremendous complexity that people bring to each interaction in the form of their own experiences and intentions, plus add in the complexity of others that are involved in the scenario in which the coaching is happening we realize that the response we get is fundamentally uncertain.

As G. H. Mead pointed out in his work, meaning in interaction comes about through the gesture and response taken together.

A rise in immersion in our coaching work can feel very uncomfortable because it acknowledges the fundamental uncertainty of the work.  It can also raise the question, ‘What is it that a coach actually brings to the coaching work?’  From an immersion perspective we bring a few key things:

  • Our experience in these types of interactions.  This is not only ‘left hand loop’ experience, but the experience of being uncomfortable in our coaching interactions and moving forward with our coachees in the midst of this discomfort.
  • Our own self awareness in our interactions.  This is the capacity to both abstract AND immerse in our own interactions so we can be more aware of how we are impacting the coaching work simply by being in it.
  • Our openness to see what might emerge with the work.  While we certainly need to do some contracting work early on in our coaching work we need to be able to stay open to the line from interaction to intention in the model above.  It is this line, this possibility that interaction may change intentions that often gets ignored in an overbalance to the psychological approach to coaching.

Immersion is a challenge.  One that as coaches I think we need to meet since it acknowledges what is actually happening in our coaching work.

Do you have stories how you have done less analysis and more immersion in your coaching work?

Author – Tom

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