A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marouschka Buyten
(Organisational Development Coach, Rwanda)
The Road to True Partnerships
Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why. Bernard Baruch
Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people. Leo Burnett
Every person possesses a unique combination of talents, experiences, qualities and strengths, but also fears, limiting beliefs and uncertainties that we don’t know about. We look at them from our own background, with our own perspective and think we know who and what they are. They’re not.
The best results happen when everyone is able to use their qualities and all qualities are equally valuable. To reach real cooperation, real partnership between people, we have to (temporarily) give up our perspective and try to understand the other. That requires true and honest curiosity about who and what the other is, and their reasons for their behavior.Yet, all too often we try to work together thinking that we know all the answers already, that our way is the right way. We approach others from a position of superiority instead of being curious and trying to learn from and about them.
Confidence and superiority, it’s the usual fundamentalist stuff: I’ve got the truth, and you haven’t. Jeanette Winterson
When working together, it happens that one person feels/behaves superior to the other. Professionals feel superior to citizens, managers to their teams, westerners to southerners, technicians to non-technicians, government to citizens, the examples are endless. Yet, this is not only diminishing another persons’ value, it’s also counter-productive for the goals you want to reach.Coming from a position of superiority, there is only one right way, your own. You know it better than the person(s) you’re working with. You hold the truth and no one else can question that. They have to do what you say, then everything will happen as it should. This perspective closes down possibilities, as you will not ask for help but instead will make unreasonable demands from others. It also has negative effects on yourself, as the sense of always having to be right will lead to tensions and will leave you judging others and yourself.
Curiosity is a powerful way out of that feeling of superiority. Curiosity is the desire to know or learn about something (Oxford dictionary). When you’re curious about the other, you will be open to possibilities and new perspectives. You can explore issues and different approaches, discuss what is the reason for certain behavior. It becomes possible to look together “what if” without your own approach having to be the right one. It leads to being equals and acceptance of each other. When working in a partnership it is curiosity, the wish to get to know and understand each other, that can lead to better cooperation and better results.
There are no foolish questions, and no man becomes a fool until he has stopped asking questions. Charles Proteus Steinmetz
When I was working in Cambodia, I had a very nice Cambodian colleague, who I could work with very well. Until we got to the point where we were talking about the changes that were needed for the organization to progress. He bluntly refused and said no change was needed. I knew these changes were needed, and we would have to implement them, so I tried everything I could to convince him, but he just didn’t do it. That obstruction from someone who usually was very cooperative got me curious, so I started to question him. I soon found out another perspective than my own. “Change”, to me such a neutral word, isn’t neutral at all to Cambodians. Their history has thought them that “change” means that things get worse, so they don’t want change anymore. They do want “development”, however. So from that moment on, we started to “develop” the organization, and made a lot of improvements. What made this possible was a shift in my perspective from “I know what is needed” to “what is happening here?”, a shift from a position of superiority to curiosity.
How to use in coaching: for the coach
Many coaches are driven by the desire to “help” other people. That in itself can be a perspective of superiority in the sense that it implies that a coach may feel they know what others need (i.e. coaching). Yet, a coach who gets into the coaching with superiority, will be judgmental, following their own agenda instead the agenda of the client. Real curiosity can open up the space for the client to share things, to let things come to the surface that they took for granted, were obvious, but still have a huge impact on them. Limiting beliefs, habits, all things that keep them back.
In coaching, the establishment of a partnership between the coach and the coachee is a necessary precondition for the success of the coaching. Without that, there will not be the trust and openness needed for the coachee to make real progress. True partnership is not possible when one of the partners comes from a position of superiority. Unlikely as it may sound for a coach at first, it’s not that strange. Often, a coachee selects a coach based on the previous experience and knowledge of the coach, because the coach has “superior” knowledge and experience compared to the coachee. Combined with the desire of the coach “to help people”, the situation where the coach is telling the coachee what they should do and how, is not that far off. When the coach notices that, it’s time to get curious! Curious about yourself and curious about the client. What other possibilities are there and what can you learn from your client?
How to use in coaching: for the client
Curiosity … endows the people who have it with a generosity in argument and a serenity in cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will. Alistar Cooke
When stuck in a position of superiority, the client will be constantly judging themselves or others. Their need to be right all the time, will put a lot of pressure on their shoulders and make it impossible to ask for help from others. This is not only harmful for themselves, but will also hamper their relationships with others. Coaching questions that open the door to a position of curiosity could be “what other possibilities could there be”, “would another perspective be possible”, “if you would be in their shoes, what would you think”, and creative techniques, if the client is open to that, could be additional tools. This can open the client’s mind for new ideas and the possibility that other people have valuable contributions to make beyond what they know. When they start experimenting with this, they can release the judgment,new possibilities arise, and relationships can be improved. This will grow their trust in others and in themselves.
Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will. James Stephens