Gestalt Coaching – greater awareness, greater choices
Photo by Paul Skorupskas
Awareness is a vital part of the foundation on which Gestalt coaching sits, a core principle underpinning it. As a coach, awareness is the backbone of your practice – awareness of yourself, others and the contexts or systems you and they are operating in. Keen awareness is also needed for your clients – awareness counts.
As Stephen Covey says:
“Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
Awareness starts with a mindset of curiosity and openness. Coaches who practice the Gestalt method need this non judgemental stance plus a strong growth mindset, one that fosters awareness in themselves and their clients. Sharpening that awareness and developing different ways to achieve it are key attributes of a great executive coach.
An excellent book that clearly illustrates the value of Gestalt Coaching is John Leary-Joyce’s The Fertile Void
From a Gestalt perspective, he describes two types of awareness essential to quality coaching.
- Open, undirected awareness – taking the wide-angle, being open and receptive to emerging interests
- Active, directed awareness – taking a concentrated, rational, narrower focus of interest
Both types of awareness happen in the present, in ‘real’ time, and both are essential to each other, working together seamlessly in the here and now.
Open, undirected, wide-angle awareness
Photo by Mike Wilson
John Leary-Joyce suggests the Gestalt coach uses both of these methods, with the emphasis on undirected awareness. For him, this wide-angle lens of awareness is about “staying in the present and experiencing what is happening now in as wide, inclusive and open way as possible”.
This kind of open awareness is receptive, expansive and broad ranging. It is exploratory and holds a stance of discovery. At the start, this awareness attempts to treat everything with equal significance.
Judgements may come and go as the coach becomes of aware of what’s happening. But the aim is to keep awareness undirected, enabling the experience to deepen and giving time for new sensations and reactions to emerge. There’s often a decision to slow down, and a degree of patient waiting, so people can become more aware in a non-directed way.
You need to open your peripheral vision, notice emotions and thoughts, hear and see things differently or in a new light. You need to watch your client’s body language and gestures. You need to listen to the tone and rhythm of their voice rather than focus on the content of the discussion. As a coach you let issues emerge, then follow the sensations and repeated patterns that arise throughout the session.
This stance is one of a non judgemental observer. There’s a quality of mindfulness embedded within it. It is open to the array of phenomena that may be present in yourself, others, the relationship, and the wider system. It’s sometimes called a phenomenological approach, one which allows for new ideas, issues and potential ‘figures’ of importance to emerge naturally and become illuminated.
Active, directed awareness – focused and purposeful
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon
Active, directed awareness is a lot more focused. It narrows down the field of interest and is singular in its attention. It usually involves a strong thinking element and can have an analytical quality. The focus or topic of interest often emerges as important, transitioning out of the initial wide-angled exploratory coaching phase we’ve talked about above.
Active, directed awareness involves the coach looking for clues and asking incisive questions. It is more laser focused, more detailed, and moves in and around the issue of interest. The coach structures their attention and questioning around the specific topic, something that can include drawing out hard and soft data, following a particular line of argument, or setting up several possible scenarios or hypotheses. It can also involve working with emotions and reactions to the issue. It has a far more purposeful and intentional orientation than the wide angled more open phenomenological stance.
Coaches should acquire both types of awareness
Both of these types of awareness are highly valuable as a coach. Undirected awareness, being curious, is always the pre-runner to bringing effective, astute, active and purposeful awareness to your client’s most relevant issue.
Without this kind of awareness and reflectivity as a coach, and beyond into your everyday life, you’ll find challenging to encourage and nurture deepening awareness in your clients. Your clients need you to have and to model a level of awareness and reflective capability that enables them to become more aware. This supports them as they see the possibilities, understand more fully the choices they have, and find the courage to change.