What if… we were coaching flowers?

I was intending to write about potential barriers to coaching, but taking time in the all-too-rare spring morning sunshine, I began watching ‘sleeping’ dandelions awakening under the emerging heat and light of the sun. Potential barriers to coaching… My mind began to wander.

What if… we were coaching flowers? Would we as coaches be the warmth of the sun or the chill of a cold winter wind? Light beaming upon the flowers’ upturned faces, or the shade on a cloudy day when they’d prefer to turn away and sleep?

Sitting watching the dandelions transform, I noticed my thoughts circling round a couple of themes…

 

Listening…

Have you ever been presented with what I’ll call here the ‘closed dandelion’ type of coachee? The one who, though functioning reasonably (perhaps even spectacularly) well, has hidden doubts, confusions or even pain buried well below the surface? Who seems closed to genuinely reaching out even though he or she’s willingly come to speak with you? Such coachees need time to settle down and relax, are wary of perceived insensitivities, alive to interpreting apparently neutral words as cynicism, and often close in on themselves again with just the slightest excuse.

What do you and I see when we observe such people (and be honest here)? If we do not sense more than the ‘closedness’ of these uncommunicative ‘dandelions’, we do ourselves and them a disservice. I’ve previously touched on the work of Nancy Kline and her book Time to Think. Anyone doubting that compassionate, supportive, intensely-aware active listening is the equivalent in coaching terms of the warmth of the sun on a flower, needs to read Nancy’s work.

To gain the trust of ‘closed dandelion’ coachees, one doesn’t need to pull out tools and ‘solutions’. One doesn’t have to ‘jolly’ them along, though it’s essential to be able to build rapport and engage in conversation sufficiently to settle them down (sometimes not an easy task). Just being there, listening and enabling the development of a ‘safe space’ is what really matters, a space in which the coachee feels he or she can talk openly to him- or herself.

Being a listening ear with no agenda beyond reflecting back in a supportive environment what coachees identify and articulate from within themselves is key. Often such coachees have never spoken openly of fears or pain before, not even to themselves. Provided there isn’t some deeper issue that requires the input of caring professionals, for these individuals, just allowing themselves to speak and to hear their own voices can be enough to move them along into a different mental space… Enough for the ‘closed dandelion’ to open up to greet the sun…

Attitude…

What if, despite everything, we  do  look at our ‘closed dandelion’ coachee only to see an unprepossessing ‘weed’? What if that’s how the coachee sees her- or himself too? Then we as coaches need to examine carefully what it means to subscribe to and model the reality of an ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ worldview – and to be honest about whether in reality that’s what we’re all about.

‘Weed’ in English parlance is not a complimentary word, and dandelions are referred to as weeds.* Yet who decided which flowers should be classed as weeds and which should not? And what is  wrong  with weeds anyway?

Weeds are admirably self-reliant, indomitable and optimistic, capable of thriving wherever they find themselves, flexible enough to adapt to almost any environment. It’s only when someone else announces that the flowers of ‘value’ are those which can’t thrive, which need the most tending, which fulfil someone else’s dream of ‘perfection’, that a weed might begin to feel somewhat at a loss…

Let’s look at it differently for a moment. A humble dandelion (above) might really be a one-flower-per-stem chrysanthemum, and a prize chrysanthemum (below) might easily be mistaken for a multi-headed giant dandelion. There really isn’t that much difference if we look dispassionately. If approached without prejudice, both are beautiful, both give pleasure, both have their place…

Can we as coaches provide the kind of space where the dandelion and the chrysanthemum can be comfortable together? Can value each other as they should be valued? Where both are valued by others for themselves rather than what those others say the flowers should be?

Can our listening and our attitude be the warmth and light that helps open up the dandelion’s glowing face to the sun?


* For those of us not so familiar with categories of British weeds and the attitudes of gardeners to them, here’s a little explanation. Whereas in France, dandelion leaves are respected natural diuretics and sold as salad greens, in the UK, dandelion plants have historically been disliked by gardeners because they are very difficult to remove from gardens – particularly the green grassy areas the British like to tend as lawns. Weeds in general have been disdained and destroyed as aspects of the ‘wilderness’ overrunning manicured ‘civilised’ garden designs, although with the growth of environmentalism and the Green Movement, a more mixed approach to gardening has meant ‘natural flowers’ (weeds to you and me) are more welcome.

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