Shared Solitude

Coaching is the art of bringing two minds together in conversation, to see what is not immediately apparent.  If it’s going to work, it has to be built on solitude.

Let’s try an analogy.  You want to move a sofa from your back room to your front room.  It’s too heavy to lift on your own.  You ask a friend to help.  Your friend can’t lift it on their own either.  But together you can lift it and carry it.  So, far so good. 

Then your friend asks why you’re moving it.  You reply, you want to put it in front of the window so you can sit in it and admire the view.  Your friend asks why you don’t move it upstairs, where the view will be better.  Who decides?

Coaching brings together two minds that together can do more than either can independently.  Ultimately, the decision must lie with the client.  Coaching assumes the client is the expert.  This means the coach can help, even if they are not familiar with the client’s area of work.

This is how I use storytelling in coaching.  I tried a brand new coaching offer with a client who has a very technical online business.  The offer was to build a portfolio of 12 stories for the client to use to market their business.  The stories would cover 5 basic business elements: branding, products and services, proposition, problem, market.  The stories also serve at various stages in the client’s sales funnel.

I used prompts for each of the twelve stories.  The client had to write a story in advance of our meetings.  They were on their own to do that.  They had to send me the story at least 24 hours before our meeting.

I would read the story a few times and make notes about anything that struck me as important.  Usually I would find a model that fitted the story and put it into new light.  Then I would sleep on it and finish my notes the next morning.

What surprised us both were the results of the conversation.  We thought we were looking for stories the client could use to market their business.  We did that but discovered so much more.  The stories led us into deeper conversations about the client’s business.  It was impossible to predict what a conversation would be about until we had it. 

For example, the client was pitching the business to potential customers while we were meeting, with little success.  We agreed to use one of the prompts to tell the story of one of the failed pitches.  The conversation we had led to the success of the next pitch.

The stories opened up a space where two minds met and interacted.  But there was more to it than that.  Each story was a product of the client’s solitude.  My initial analysis of each story was in solitude.  When we met, we found we were working together in the same space, shared solitude.

Yes, we had both prepared in advance but what is preparation if not use of solitude to build up familiarity.  Meetings go better when everyone is prepared.

This is the key difference between solitude and isolation.  Solitude is work done for the benefit of others.  It puts the other at the centre.

This is the genius of any business.  It is centred on the customer and so the business owner has to visualise what the customer needs.  Marketing is how we find the customer we visualised as we developed our business.  Of course, this does not guarantee success but it brings something new into being.

Not all businesses are obviously innovative.  But it is worth asking what it is about this specific business that makes it extraordinary.  Don’t assume it needs to change, maybe all that’s needed is to spot the genius latent in the solitude of every business owner.

You may be wondering whether it’s possible to experience solitude on your own.  Maybe this is something to ponder in solitude!

Day 20/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: Run Sugars Next: Cooking on Gas?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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