Research Paper By Maria Rannila
(Cross-cultural coaching, SWITZERLAND)
The point is not what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. – Viktor Frankl
I read Dr. Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” more than 10 years ago and found it an intriguing story as well as a philosophy. Since a couple of years now I have been studying Logotherapy through the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy. As I more recently also started a certificate in coaching through ICA, I started to notice similarities between these areas of study and it got me thinking whether it might make sense to combine them somehow, as they somehow seemed to fit together.
After a tough day at work, who doesn’t recognize themselves thinking the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of the current corporate world? The topic seems to come up frequently in day-to-day discussions with almost anyone – no wonder: increasing meaningfulness at work is one of the most potent – and underutilized – ways to increase productivity, engagement and performance. The concept of meaning was probably always very relevant, but certainly reserves some thinking space particularly in today’s fast-paced, ever-so-demanding world – both in and outside of work. Within the realm of coaching already John Whitmore refers to meaning in his 1992 published bestseller Coaching for Performance:
I cannot fail to notice on coaching programs that the issue of meaning and purpose is being raised more and more often. I am amazed how frequently participants desire to escape what they see as the meaningless corporate world and go independent.
In this research paper my aim is to explain the basics of both Logotherapy as well as coaching, for those who are not familiar with one or both. I will also explore more in detail what I’ve discovered these two approaches have in common. In the end of the paper I have crafted three potential coaching scenarios together with a potential coaching process and tools – the idea is that any coach could pick up this process or tools so they could use them in their own work. I’ve chosen to focus on a cross-cultural context, as this is my chosen coaching niche. Finally, I have added Logotherapeutic ideas in each scenario, to see what added value they could bring into the coaching process.
I hope this paper would enlighten any practicing coach about the potential use of Logotherapy as an additional tool to help their clients to be the best they can be and to lead a meaningful life.
What is Logotherapy?
Logotherapy was developed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist and holocaust survivor and has gained recognition through his bestseller book Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl experienced during the camps that some people gave up facing the extreme circumstances. However, those who didn’t were the ones who survived and Dr. Frankl was intrigued about what motivated those people, what drove them towards life? He discovered that the survivors had a notion of a meaning or purpose to their lives. They had hope for the future. Here Dr. Frankl has often used the quote from Nietzsche:
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
Logotherapy is founded upon the belief that finding meaning in life is the most powerful motivational force in all humans. The three main principles in Logotherapy are:
- Freedom of Will: We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with unavoidable suffering;
- Will to Meaning: Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life;
- Meaning of Life: Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
According to Dr. Frankl the meaning in our lives differs in time; from moment to moment we must choose what is the “right” meaning for us. We can make the “right” choices through listening to our conscience. Meaning in life can be found in three ways:
- through action, e.g. working to create a product or service;
- through experience, e.g. admiring a sunset or a work of art or loving someone;
- through attitude that we take when facing adversity or unavoidable suffering.
Logotherapy is a school of psychotherapy but also a human, optimistic philosophy of life. Quoting Dr. Frankl:
The best way to practice Logotherapy is to live Logotherapy.
Logotherapy assumes that there is meaning even in life’s “tragic triad”: pain, guilt or death and that it is possible (although not necessarily easy) to remain essentially optimistic when facing these situations.
When is it used
In Dr. Frankl’s view, the modern social situation helps to foster a crisis of meaninglessness (existential vacuum). This state of meaninglessness is characterized by boredom, cynicism, feeling of emptiness, lack of direction and by questioning the point of most of life’s activities. It is derived from a decline/loss in traditional values as well as unlimited choice with more time and money than ever before.
The basic tenet of Logotherapy, that all individuals have a need to find meaning, as well as the future-focus of Logotherapy can be empowering assumptions when starting with clients who feel a loss of meaning. Logotherapy has been used effectively e.g. with depression and addiction, thus helping clients to discover their unique personal meaning and concentrating not on the past but on the opportunities in the future.
The “medicine chest” of Logotherapy is contained within the core of the humanity within the clients. Dr. Frankl calls this the noetic, spiritual dimension. The client’s noetic center always remains healthy, even if it is buried under illnesses of the psyche and/or the body. It also has the power to rise above the “worldly” troubles. Thus the patient may not be able to change their bodily/mental condition, but they can change their attitude towards it.
Self-transcendence, according to Dr. Frankl, is one of the two unique capacities of human beings (self-detachment being the other). It refers to the ability to rise above and beyond self toward outward conditions. Intriguingly, the idea is not to completely forget one’s own interests in the process but rather to include others in one’s own interests; therefore in a way self-transcendence is “selfish”, as it will help others but also the client themselves to feel good.
This technique is used when the client is taking themselves too seriously (hyperreflection) or if they are trying too hard to succeed solving their problems with willpower (hyperintention).
There is no situation that cannot be made worse by excessive worrying.
The idea is to redirect the client’s focus from themselves/their problem on someone or something else meaningful to the client. Dereflection consists of two parts: a stop sign that puts the brakes on pathological hyperreflection, and a guidepost that turns the mind to other thoughts.
The human capacity to separate the client from their problems: ‘I am not my problem/illness’. Client’s ability to look at their problem from the outside and even laugh at oneself and at the symptoms. Detaching oneself from one’s problems can be very empowering and may help to shift the client from a victim position into someone who can freely choose their stand.
The paradox comes from the idea where the client is encouraged to intent what they fear most. Think of a client with insomnia: they would be encouraged to stay awake for as long as they can. Humor within this technique is also encouraged – if the client can make fun of their behavior or fear, it helps them to detach themselves from the problem (self-distancing).
Success of this technique will depend on the client’s ability to fully commit themselves to confronting and even exaggerating their worst fear and it does expect a great deal of trust between the client and the therapist/coach. If the client succeeds in the commitment, the expected outcome is for the dreaded symptom to disappear. This technique has been particularly effective with various kinds of phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorders; it has been helpful in reducing anticipatory anxiety.
The idea comes from Socrates, who believed that the role of the teacher is not to pour information into students but rather to elicit from the students what they know intuitively. Dr. Frankl believes it is the task of the Logotherapist not to tell seekers what the meanings in their lives are, but rather to elicit the wisdom that is hidden within the spirit of each seeker. This technique requires active listening, mirroring/rephrasing and the use of open-ended questions and its purposes include
exploring complex ideas, getting to the truth of things, opening up issues and problems, uncovering assumptions […].
What is (cross-cultural) coaching?
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. This is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.
Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:
- Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
- Encourage client’s self-discovery
- Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
- Hold the client responsible and accountable
Cross-cultural coaching in this paper refers to coaching when applied in a cross-cultural context. It can also be seen as a branch of executive coaching (in case the client holds a managerial/leadership position). According to Salomaa, cross-cultural coaching is actually difficult to evaluate as a genre and practically all coaching involves cultural elements.
The purpose of cross-cultural coaching is to help the client build awareness of the effect of their own behavior as well as the behavior of people with a different cultural background. Also, the aim is to help the client build emotional/cultural intelligence and competence in order for them to be able to be successful in their relationships with people from across a diversity of cultural backgrounds. The definition of ‘culture’ can also be understood broader than merely cultural characteristics of particular nations. This approach is then also applicable e.g. for people working across a variety of industries or corporate cultures. Essentially, a group’s culture is the set of unique characteristics that distinguishes its members from another group.
Potential clients include people, who are planning a move or have just moved abroad and are adjusting to a new culture. They could also be not living abroad but working with people, who have a different cultural background from their own. Typical clients include managers/employees in large global corporations as well as expats and their families. There’s some research to show that expatriate coaching may enhance productivity and wellbeing, diminish stress and it can be helpful in the adjustment process. Cross-cultural coaching may also be beneficial for exchange students, voluntary workers, travellers or repats (expats returning to their home country).
Alongside expatriates, cross-cultural coaching can also benefit someone who is working with a variety of corporate cultures or different industries (such as an independent coach) or for anyone who is regularly exposed to a diversity of cultures.
Common ideas in Logotherapy and coaching
Here’s a short summary of the common ideas and methods that I’ve identified within both approaches.
Focus on future both Logotherapy and coaching are future-oriented; instead of delving in the past to discover the source for current issues they focus on what is the current situation and how to go on from here to create a meaningful future.
Responsibility Logotherapy assumes that the individual is free to choose their attitude but with the freedom comes responsibility for their actions. Similarly, in coaching the role of the client remains being responsible for their life, including all the decisions and actions they might (or might not) take as a result of coaching.
Uniqueness of the individual in Logotherapy it is assumed that every individual is unique and also their purpose in life is unique – it cannot be fulfilled by anyone else. Also in coaching every client is a unique individual and has their unique goals and unique way to reach them. The role of the coach is to stay non-judgmental and refrain from valuing the client’s agenda or ways of thinking/working.
Shifting perspective may be key for a coaching client who feels somehow unsatisfied with the way things are in their life or has been unable to reach a set goal. A coach can support the client in raising awareness of their perspectives as well as replacing the perspective with something that’s more supportive of a life situation or accelerates getting to the goal.
Changing attitude is a key term in Logotherapy; when life offers us situations that we cannot alter, we always have the possibility to choose our stand, choose our attitude and hence make any situation meaningful.
Gratitude the power of gratitude is well noted both in Logotherapy as well as in coaching. Dr. Frankl agrees that gratefulness is a way of realizing meaning in one’s life and it seems to be the underlying philosophy by which Dr. Frankl himself lived. In coaching, it is recognized that most people are generous and grateful unless they are blocked by fear, habit or lack of reflection. A coach can help to build a client’s awareness of the ways they act at their best, which is when they often will demonstrate gratitude and generosity.
Powerful questioning is one of the core competencies for a coach, as defined by ICF. Open-ended questions that challenge the client’s assumptions or create greater clarity for the client can be powerful. Similarly in Logotherapy, Socratic questioning is used as a disciplined method to uncover the client’s assumptions and underlying beliefs about a topic/problem.
Values & purpose in life: in coaching, discovering the client’s personal core values is often a part of a coaching engagement in some way. The values reveal to the coach a lot of information about the client’s interests and drivers and they can also offer guidance if the client is making a decision. In Logotherapy the personal values are seen as a founding building block in establishing a purpose in life and Dr. Frankl talks about the voice of conscience as guide in discovering personal values.
I wanted to try and see how applying Logotherapy within cross-cultural coaching might work in practice. As my practical experience in both domains is still scarce, I decided to develop a couple of hypothetical scenarios that might happen within cross-cultural coaching and how a coach might go about exploring them with a client; what might be some powerful questions or tools within these contexts. The coaching questions are based on my Meaningful coaching model, that I’ve developed for the Advanced Coach Certificate Training Programme at ICA. At the end of each scenario I’ve also added some thoughts on how a logotherapeutic approach/methods might bring added value into the process.
(1) Making the decision – should I take an expat assignment?
Claire is a Sales Director who always wanted to go on an assignment and it’s something she communicated to her line manager as a wish. Then one day he comes to her with an offer: to move from New York to Singapore for 6-12 months to kick-off the newly established sales office. Claire is excited but also recognizes that this is a big decision and searches out a coach to support her in figuring out whether to accept the offer and to evaluate whether this really is a good opportunity for her. How would you as a coach start the process off with Claire?
- Clarify outcomes/Goals for assignment: “What will a successful assignment look like for you? To what extent would you be able to make this assignment a successful one?”
- Personal values: Clarify Claire’s personal values à reflect the decision through these values
- Past resources: “How have you taken bigger life decisions before? What tools might you already have to support you in making a decision? What has been a good way for you to make decisions before?”
- Awareness of change: “How comfortable are you with change? What areas of your life / relationships would be impacted by taking the assignment? What’s within your control?”
- Visualization: “Imagine you wake up in the morning, having already taken the decision pro/against assignment. How will it feel? Walk through the day, how will your life look like, what opportunities are there when the decision is made? What will you enjoy doing?” Go through both scenarios.
- Planning actions: “What will be your next step? Who can support you?”
- Self-distancing: “If your friend was in this situation, how would you help them?” / “If you were already living your life the second time, how would you decide now?”
- Self-transcendence: “Who else might benefit of your decision pro/against the assignment?”
- Purpose: “What purpose will this decision play in your life? How will the outcome of this decision serve your life purpose?”
(2) On the assignment – I’m thriving at work but my family is unhappy
Rob is German and almost a year in on a 3-year assignment in Brazil with his wife and two school-age children. He is really enjoying his work and the local team, but his home team are not content. His wife has not been able to find a job despite continuous attempts and one of his kids has been bullied at school. Also the housing is not quite what they expected when arriving; the apartment is nice but the commute to work for Rob is longer than originally expected. Rob feels trapped by the situation and seeks out the help of a coach to figure things out for him. How would you as a coach support Rob?
- Clarify the goal: “What is the goal of the assignment for you and your family? What would you like to gain from this experience? How do you know you’re getting closer to your goal?”
- Awareness of the current state: “What do you think you and your family need now? What would happen if you didn’t change anything? What’s within your control? What’s your responsibility? What’s not your responsibility?”
- Personal values: Clarify Rob’s personal values à reflect the decision through these values
- Explore ideas, options and strategies: “What are you prepared to try? What if you could not fail – what would you dare to try? What if you had unlimited money/time? What does your heart tell you? What are you prepared to give up to get to your goal?”
- Gratefulness: “What are you grateful for today?” If Rob feels very unhappy about the current situation, a gratitude exercise such as a gratitude journal may help to notice what’s still good, what’s working well. This in turn may help to shift Rob’s energy to be more positive and to see the opportunities around him.
- Visualization: “Imagine 1 year ahead. What would the ideal situation look like? Describe as concrete as possible – what do you (and your family) see, hear, feel.“
- Planning actions: “How can you get there? What would it require to put that into place? What would be a concrete first step? What are you prepared to do? Who can support you? How will you know you’re making progress?”
- Self-distancing: “If your friend was in this situation, how would you help them?” / “If you were already living your life the second time, how would you decide now?” If Rob is really agonizing about having to make the decision, consider: “What’s funny about this situation?”
- Purpose: “What purpose will this decision play in your life? How will the outcome of this decision serve your life purpose?” This could also be used as reflection afterwards: “What did you learn? What are you taking out of this experience for your life?”
(3) Working in a cross-cultural virtual team – communication challenges
Kate is Dutch, based in Zurich and is working in a global corporation as a team lead. She has recently recruited 3 new people as well as a sub-team lead in India. However, the team seems to constantly turn to her as well as for her Zurich-based teammates for support on things that she would expect them to figure out themselves. Tasks that she would expect to be simple and straightforward take time and several iterations to work out to her expected standard. She has visited the office in India twice and things have improved slightly after the visits but productivity is not on the level she is expecting. Kate is seeking help of a coach to clarify her way forward. How would you as a coach support Kate?
- Clarifying the goal: “What would you like to accomplish with the team in India? What does success look like? To whom is this goal meaningful? What do you think you will need to address in order to achieve that success? What do people in a well-working team do? What do you know about the working culture in India? On a scale of 1-10 how comfortable do you feel about the working culture in India? What do you think their perspective is on how things are working at the moment?”
- Building awareness of current state (both the positives as well as what’s not working): “What did you already achieve? What is working well now? What do you enjoy in the current situation? What would happen if the current situation would go on? What are you doing / what did you already try to get you closer to your goal? What has worked well? Where do you get stuck? What does your manager expect?”
- Awareness of your strengths: “What do you love doing? What are you proud of in yourself? What is important to you?”
- Crafting ideas: “What are you prepared to try? What would your manager expect you to try? What if you could not fail – what would you dare to try? How can you use your strengths to get you closer to your goal?”
- Actions: “What can you do next? How could you make this a part of your routine? What support will you need? How will you know you’re making progress?”
Although Logotherapy is foremost meant to be used within relationships between an individual and a therapist, I see potential in applying the basic philosophy or ideas within a context of a corporate team.
- Dereflection: in case Kate is really spending time on hyperreflecting this issue and it’s causing her stress, dereflection could be considered. Assuming the goal “higher productivity could be achieved through improving on the clarity and openness of communication in the team, the coach could have Kate think of how what’s in it for the whole team; how would they all benefit of working well together. Perhaps Kate could facilitate an open brainstorming session for the team so everyone can give their ideas. Having Kate create good energy around her, in the whole team, would surely also have a positive impact on her own energy.
- Purpose: “How will the outcome of this process serve your team’s/organization’s purpose?” This could also be used as reflection afterwards: “What did you learn? What are you taking out of this experience for your team’s future?”
Introducing Logotherapeutic thinking within a coaching relationship definitely makes sense from the point of view that there are so many similarities in these both ‘human’ ways of working. They seem to build on the same human foundation, concept of human being. Also, combining the two approaches makes sense simply from the point of view that finding meaning is always relevant – for an individual in a life coaching context but also within a corporate context. Through the philosophy as well as the techniques it’s possible to bring an additional flavor within a coaching relationship that can help the client to move forward or to reframe their perspective.
Readings, further information:
- For further understanding on Logotherapy, the Viktor Frankls Institute of Logotherapy in Texas, USA, is making the study of Viktor Frankl’s philosophy and psychotherapy available in a Distance Learning format. More information from:
- For more information on Logotherapy, you can also look into the following books:
- Frankl, Viktor E. (1959): Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press.
- Frankl, Viktor E. (1986): The Doctor and the Soul. Second Vintage Books Edition.
- Frankl, Viktor E. (1988): The Will to Meaning. Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. Expanded Edition.
- Graber, Ann (2004): Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy. Method of Choice in Ecumenical Pastoral Psychology. Wyndham Hall Press.
-  Amortegui, Jessica (2014): Why finding meaning at work is more important than feeling happy.
-  Whitmore, John (2002): Coaching for Performance. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Third edition., p.116.
-  Distance-Learning Course Guide: “Dr. Franklian Psychology: Meaning-Centered Interventions” given by the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy
-  http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Motivation_and_emotion/Book/2013/Paradoxical_intention
-  ICF - Coaching FAQs
-  ICF - Coaching FAQs
-  Salomaa, Raija (2011): Expatriate coaching, p10.
-  Rosinski, Philippe (2003): Coaching Across Cultures. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. p.20.
-  Salomaa, Raija (2012): A Conceptual Research Framework for Studying Coached Expatriates, p.6.
-  Havenga Coetzer, Patti: Gratefulness: A Highway to Meaning? within Supplemental reading material of the Distance-Learning Course: “Franklian Psychology: Attitudinal Change.
-  ICA – Gratitude
-  ICF – Coaching core competencies