Connecting emotions, embodiment and stories in coaching

November 2019 Coaching Report

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November 2019 Coaching Report
Connecting emotions, embodiment and stories in coaching

Photo by Irina Todorova; Duke Gardens, North Carolina

Connecting emotions, embodiment and stories in coaching

At the Institute we started the month of November still under the impressions of the Annual Conference on Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare organized by the Institute of Coaching and Harvard Medical School, which took place on October 18th and 19th 2019. We are continuing our conversations with old and new friends who attended and are reflecting on the fulfilling interactions and new ideas that were shared.

As I remembered some of the presentations of the conference and looked forward to the IOC events coming up in November, one clear common theme stood out for me – how coaching scholarship and practice engage with the person holistically - through mind, body and relationship. Informed by the three aspects of embodiment delineated by Hydén (2013), we can integrate some of the ideas which have been in our thoughts in October and November. These three aspects are The Story in the Body, The Present Communicative Body, and The Body as Metaphor. Though most of the resources below engage all three aspects of embodiment in multiple ways, some distinctions can be highlighted.

The Story in the Body

Relates to stories entwined with/within bodily experiences, and the connections between cognition and bodily experiences. During the conference there were several key-note presentations referring to stories “told” within the body and their connection to cognitions, emotions and development. Videos of these lectures will be available soon on our website, so keep them in mind. Sara Lazar, who heads the Lazar Neuroscience Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, shared her most recent work on the neuroscience of mindfulness.

The Keynote focused on mindfulness, ego development and their correlates in brain functioning. Other recent work in the lab addresses mindfulness, “embodied ethics” and related neuroscientific processes. Thus, our focus research article for this month explores the role of mindfulness in coaching (Spence & Cavanagh, 2019), including what are the paths through which mindfulness can be beneficial in coaching.

To study this, the authors employed an experimental design in which they compare three types of mindfulness practice (mindfulness meditation, attention training and mindful creativity), informed by three hypothesized pathways about how mindfulness is beneficial. They find that all three approaches lead to increased mindfulness, wellbeing and goal attainment; however, coaches would do best to choose the approach based on what is most relevant to the client at that time.

The November Webinar presented by Angela Passarelli, who is affiliated with the Coaching Research Lab at the Waterhead School of Management, How Vision Acts as Lever for Change, illustrated the role of visioning coaching questions and conversations, and compared them to problem solving conversations. These comparisons show differences in coaching outcomes, as well as in physiological and brain states. Further elaboration on this idea are available in her article Vision-based coaching: Optimizing resources for leader development.

The Present Communicative Body

This is the body, or one of the bodies, present in conversations and storytelling, such as in coaching. Another November Webinar directly addresses the body in coaching. Lyne Desormeaux in The Body in Coaching: Power, Focus, Control, and Rehabilitation presents different cases and through them illustrates embodied coaching when working with leadership challenges. Suzanne Wilkins, in her CoachX talk Using Theater Techniques in Coaching, takes a perspective informed by psychodrama. She discusses how theater and bodily movement and sensations can be employed in coaching.

Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten have an upcoming Webinar Conversations that Inspire: Coaching for Sustained Desired Change on December 9, 2019 - 1:00pm to 2:30pm. Their work is also part of the research conducted at the Coaching Research Lab at the Waterhead School of Management and integrates the neuroscientific insights mentioned above. They will reflect on coaching conversations which inspire envisioning a purposeful future and sustaining that inspiration. The book they co-authored with Richard Boyatzis Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth expands further on these ideas.

The Body as Metaphor

David Drake manages in his brief CoachX talk, My Turn to Serve Tea: Mindfulness In Motion, to integrate many of the themes above and adds the idea of the body moving through space as metaphor. Drake captivatingly connects body, motion, mindfulness, memory and narrative in coaching. Hydén (2013) also uses an example by Proust of an embodied memory of sharing a cup of tea and a small cake with his mother. For the coaching client who Drake is working with, the memory of her family’s ritual of (older, strong, professional) women serving tea at family gatherings, becomes a metaphor for maturity and confidence, which supports her through a transition into a leadership role.

Irina Todorova
Director of Research
Institute of Coaching

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