If you have missed the conversation, then you can listen to it here.
No surprise that after this conversation I had a lot of follow-up thoughts. 😊
"Look at your data - Your data has a story to tell.”
I loved that sentence as it really spoke to my researcher mind. It integrates the two, sometimes seemingly distant sides of the research word. Data and stories. Data, for most of us means something cold and clear. There are even courses in which you can learn how to clean it up. Sounds funny… In the minds of most of my practitioner friends, data is something like the raw materials in your kitchen. They need a lot of processing, magic or just simply the effort of a trained expert – a chef – to make the meal. And we usually go to the kitchen when we are hungry. We usually turn to research activities - doing it, or engaging with the outcomes - when we have a question, a dilemma, when we want to know something. So facing just the data is usually a bit disappointing. (OK, some of my research manager friends out there would tell me that the most tedious process in any project is to obtain the data, and the rest is easy stuff…)
But as Joel says data has a story to tell. We just need to believe in the fact that there is something inside. Like a good coach, a researcher turns to the dataset with openness and curiosity. We both ask questions and let something emerge. Doing statistical probes, running frequency counts or forming qualitative clusters is the same as asking questions for a coach. Both the client and the dataset wants to tell you their own story. I could say that sometimes I coach my datasets and research my clients.
If we do it right – asking the proper questions – then a consistent story will emerge. Then the researcher takes on the hat of the storyteller and goes out to the world to share the tale of the data in a format that is easy to listen to. They write publications, essays, blogs etc. Communications is a key part of the research activity, and researchers should be skilled in storytelling if they wish to make an impact. No surprise that there are courses on the communication of scientific results as well.
So I respect good researchers because of their persistence in data collection, their skills in designing studies, their “coaching skills” in getting the story out from the data and for their storytelling as well.
Another sentence that caught me was when we talked about knowledge and science as if it was a river. I think that is a beautiful picture. When turning to research and science we as practitioners usually want to hear “the truth”. Full stop. But we need to understand – and this is where the river analogy plays out so well – that there is no such a thing. There is only a current version of the truth. And to understand it deeply it is advised to take a look at its history – take a look at the path of the river, how it got to where you are right now. Learning about the history, the development of a scientific field – although may seem to be boring, as you may be engaging with “not current any more” stuff – can strongly enhance your understanding of it. For example, seeing how coaching has emerged as a scientific field on its own, how it was built upon the ideas of sports, motivational interviewing then later on positive psychology… it helps us to admire the complexity of this field.
One more thing to the river analogy. You never know when will a river change its path. They can take surprising turns. So is research and science. We have to keep exploring and keep in mind that what we take as granted today may change its meaning in the light of tomorrow’s results.
There was a point where we were talking about fundamental research questions. The example that Joel brought in was really simple: “Why do people change?” The depth of this question in simply mind-bogging. There are a few typical answers for this, that we coaches frequently use as starting points for our interventions. People seek rewards – they go for positives – and they are avoiding punishments.
These can pretty much cover most of the cases. But have you ever thought about further reasons? Or the small details, like the types of rewards or punishments that could play a role here? For example I have seen people change, just to be able to maintain some ‘good old shitty habits’ – drama – in a changing environment. Sometimes they just uncover some hidden content of their unconscious minds and they suddenly start integrating it… sometimes we change for others…
Having a detailed picture of why people might change is an important part of my coaching knowledge. Exploring these elements, finding and activating personal resources around these could greatly enhance the effectiveness of any coaching process. If I can stick to my loved analogies here (why couldn’t i? 😊) then I’d say that a coach is a personal change manager. As Joel said:
“Coaching can be a moderator for the likelihood of change to become reality.”
What would be your “fundamental research question?”
The last thing that I’d like to highlight was the part where we were talking about “borrowing from therapists”. Appropriate and non-appropriate borrowing. I like the word “borrowing” here, as it brings me the idea of boundaries again. Boundaries between therapy and coaching. Borrowing means that we use something that is not ours, then handing it back to the rightful owner. From this perspective the past of the client is something that we can only borrow from them (and the therapists). We might go there to search for resources to support the present, but it is not a good idea to get stuck there as a coach. Another thing that we coaches like to borrow from psychologists and therapists are their tools. And for me it is an OK thing not to give those back 😊.
As a psychologist myself I have been involved in a number of debates around the ownership of certain tools, about the level of specialized knowledge that is needed for their application, and their ethical use in different processes. Just be aware of these dimensions – ethics, focus and skilled use – and most of the tools and approaches will be in good hands with a well-trained coach. What would be inappropriate to borrow from the world of therapy for you? Some common topics start to emerge from these conversations. Boundaries. AI. “Coaching for everyone”… I’ll write some further posts to reflect on those in the upcoming weeks.