January 3, 2023

Some reflections on our conversation with Erik de Haan

"Statistically speaking coaching is effective" - For every science-minded practitioner this sentence is a relief. Yes, it does work, and yes, it does seem to make a difference.

If you have missed the conversation, then you can listen to it here.

"Statistically speaking coaching is effective"

Erik de Haan

For every science-minded practitioner, this sentence is a relief. Yes, it does work, and yes, it does seem to make a difference. This is why we are doing it. So, we can be assured that we are playing a meaningful game here. However, “statistically speaking,” this does not mean that it works or makes a difference all the time, and this is what everyone has to keep in mind. We may end up in useless processes; the chemistry may not work, we may not be able to find common ground, etc.. it is OK to realize that the current coaching process is not working or it has not worked. It is less OK for me to stay in this state and not to learn from the mistakes of a closed coaching, or not to adjust the process as we move forward. So, reflect, adjust and learn.

Reasons Why Background Matters

We all come from different backgrounds. Erik is a physicist in his first profession, I am a psychologist, and I know plenty of coaches with backgrounds in economics, management, or HR. I am fascinated by the diversity of our profession, and I am aware of all the criticism that coaching receives for being a profession with a low threshold for entry.

Our different backgrounds can provide an immense value to our clients. All professions work with certain models and relevant focal points of reality, and bringing these frameworks to our coaching clients can ignite “aha” moments by inviting them to think differently. Once, for example, a carpenter friend of mine – as he was working on a piece of furniture in our home – started to talk about attachment points and different types of joints that we could use on a door… then “bang!” I had an idea about a team on rephrasing a cooperation issue as a set of different joints to be used for a single function. Used that idea later, and it worked!

During the conversation with Erik, I decided to “steal” his phrase about different levels of aggregation, as it was obvious and inspiring at the same time. The different backgrounds of coaches are valuable, but they do not substitute for proper coaching education and knowledge. We all need to train and keep our skills sharp.

Consuming Research vs. Engaging with Research

For me – surprise, surprise! – this training comes hand-in-hand with the knowledge of coaching science, the (mostly proven) theory of coaching. To link back to our conversation with Erik, I cherished the moment when he said that practitioners should not only consume research knowledge, but engage with it. Why did I like this so much? Engagement creates a deeper knowledge on the level of the individual. Plus, engagement with the material can be done by using core coaching skills: critical reflection, questioning, collecting more information, and checking the theory in real life. So this is essentially coaching practice in a certain sense.

Another reason why I am a fan of practitioners engaging with research is that this way the discourse between researchers and practitioners can speed up, resulting in a more speedy development of our profession. A quick detour here: a while ago, when I was the EMCC VP of Research, the volunteer team has created a fascinating publication series, the provocations reports. In one of these we wrote about hybrid researcher – practitioner identities as a potential future for active coaches. (A big extra thanks again for Prof. Tony Wall for his great contributions in this series!) You can find the report series in the online shop of EMCC Global.

I could write about all the research results Erik has mentioned in our conversation! For example, the shape of the dose-effect curve in coaching is really intriguing for me. After a certain number of sessions, the extra sessions seemingly do not provide an additional value from the perspective of the desired outcome. If this stands true, then what is the optimal number of sessions to be held? What other benefits do the “extra sessions” provide? (I have some clients who do like to contract for long processes.)  Also, the importance of observer measurement in assessing the coaching relationship – which is an important active ingredient, contributing to the success of the coaching process – raises important questions.

The whole debate on how to measure a relationship, and what do the different measures mean in real life sheds light on the most important challenge of research for me: making sense, extracting meaning from the data. Researchers question the reality with the different means of experiments, surveys and observations, then try to come up with an interpretative theory that offers good predictions. A pretty similar thing to what coaches do. They explore, make sense and create future stories together with their clients.

Go, and be a researcher!

As a final note, I’d like to recommend reading Erik’s books. The way how he presents the controversies around the key questions gives a real thought-provoking context to the research results.

What stood out for you? What are your reflections? I am curious to hear about all of them!

(Commenting is available under my LinkedIn post.)

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Written By

Zoltán Csigás

Executive Coach
I am a Coach, psychologist, podcaster and Official curious person. Supporting you in reaching relational leadership mastery.
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