(2) Cognitive Coaching

Quote of the week:

            “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it”

                                                            –Albert Einstein

This week our mission is to delve into the conceptual elements of the mind regarding cognitive coaching.  Auerbach (2006) suggests that the goal of coaching is quite simple, to help “clients think with more depth, greater clarity, and less distortion” (as cited in Stober & Grant, 2006, p. 103).  From our thoughts last week on critical thinking, our goal is to broaden this idea of coaching to unlock the mysteries of being human.  We are after all creatures that must contend with the softer skills such as the influences of mood and emotionality.

What is it exactly about moods and feelings that tend to distance some people?  Many aren’t comfortable with the ‘touchy feely’ dynamics of the human relationship and connective interrelatedness.  In reading chapter 4, I was struck by Auerbach’s (2006) elegant simplicity of his philosophy with the pursuit of the cognitive therapist to help identify and eliminate errors in thinking to aid in “adopting more accurate, useful cognitions” (p. 104) to “eliminate mental distortions” (p. 104).

If we look to behavior as the outcome of thinking, then it becomes easy to follow this logic that if we correct one’s thoughts—or errors in perception and distortion—then we can expect higher levels of success in one’s behaviors or outcomes.  Garbage in, garbage out.  I liken this to the plight of the math instructor.  The goal is more than simply the students posting the correct answer of 4.  The goal is the multitude of paths one can take to arrive at this answer of 4:  2+2=4, 1+3=4,  4×1=4.  6(4) – 19=4 (?) etc etc.  Which is correct?  When a math teacher is able to see the work that is offered by the student, particularly in our last equation that is wrong, the teacher can see the thinking of the student—the error in application as part of the equation.  The teacher then simply corrects the flaw in their thinking and volia—the correct answer emerges —-6 x (4) – 20 =4.  This is the mission of the coach—to find this error in thinking that ultimately affects and influences one’s mood and emotionality that translates into the outcomes of behavior.

Sounds simple enough, right?  *grins*  Let’s take a deeper look.

Soon-to-be-famous Segment: News You Can Use.

Now let’s look at the application of what we have learned this week.  How does this translate into action?  How can this translate into “News We Can Use Today?”

If we assume for the sake of argument that beliefs cause feelings—not events (Auerbach, 2006), then the role of a coach is to “sharpen discriminations, correct misconceptions, [to help learn] more adaptive attitudes” (Auerbach, 2006, p. 105).  Let’s look then at this idea of coaching to results where the goal is to look at the how in addition to the what.  Please be sure to review the 10 common cognitive distortions offered by Burns (1980) on pp. 105-106.  Do you see any old friends here perhaps?  *grins*  We are all guilty of these at one time or another.  The goal is for the coach to help the client see these when perhaps we may not be able to see the proverbial forest for the trees.

Thought Mediation

Let’s think of the client coach relationship as one form of mediation.  The role of the coach is to listen carefully and contextually deconstruct the thoughts of the client or ‘coachee.’  Sometimes we need to know not only what we are thinking, but why and how we arrived at these conclusions.  Think of a coach as our ‘outside voice’ of reason and logic for whom we can introduce our inside voice.  Our coach then becomes mediator and negotiator—to help us understand where we may be stuck to offer a conversation that moves us forward from where we are, to where we need or want to be.  Your coach is a mediator, a master negotiator that understands the connection between our thinking and our behavior.  The goal is to adjust the input for more effective and productive output.

Now we have to decide what our personal philosophy is.  Do we subscribe to the Oz Principle where clients already have the answers within them, where the goal is merely for the coach to help the client retrieve them (Connors et al., 2004), or what Auerbach (2006) refers to as the Rogerian (1995) style.  OR do we believe that the client does not possess the answers for which cognitive coaching techniques such as the inference ladder (p. 114) might be more appropriate?  What do you believe?

Story time: *smiles*  When my husband and I were stationed at Yokota AFB in Tokyo Japan, I struggled with the idea of culture.  I was a brand new teacher and not yet well versed in andragogy—or teaching techniques.  I simply assumed that what would work in a US classroom based on my experiences would work in Japan.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. *sigh*  Why? Faulty assumptions.  Imagine my surprise when I walked into a Japanese classroom with a group of 18 twenty somethings to discover that they had no knowledge about specific events in world history—specifically theirs—with the role of Japan in WWII.  Since Japan has a culture of saving face at all costs, and since Japan lost the war, The Japanese Ministry of Education decided to exclude this from their education curriculum.  I was facing a room full of students with the ‘deer in the headlights’ look when I began to talk about WWII.  I was prepared for all possible answers—including negative ones.  I was not however prepared that they didn’t know at all.

As a result of this experience, my teaching career was off to a rocky start.  First I had a classroom of students who had no knowledge of events that took place a mere mile or two (Hiroshima) from our location AND culturally they had to save face for their teacher as they weren’t allowed to tell me I did not understand.  To be candid, they weren’t aware they didn’t know.  I had no idea how to teach with two hands tied behind my back as it were.  My coach had to look at my faulty assumptions, as my teaching techniques were not at fault.  Instead, my lack of cultural understanding was at the core of my struggles.  I agree with Auerbach (2006) in his assertion that “careful thinking is critical to effective coaching” (p. 126).  My coach helped me to make sense of this experience within proper context to help me move forward through the process.  Cavanagh (2006) [from Chapter 11] agrees looking through the vantage point of a 30,000 foot view of the General Systems Theory as “a series of systems within systems” (p. 314).  “Rather than focus on the part of the system in isolation, systems theories focus much more on the relationships between parts” (p. 317).  Since we do not live in a vacuum, this approach looks at how we as humans relate to the systems in which we interact and function within our sphere of influence.

Let’s look at this idea of a Grandfather clock as an example.  If I were to ask you what was the most important part of the clock, what would you say?  Is this importance based on size or function?  What if I told you that each part was equally important—from the huge wooden case down to the smallest screw?  Why?  Without any one of these parts, the clock would cease to function.  Therefore each part of a watch or clock regardless of size has a specific job that is interrelated to all parts of the timepiece.  Without any one piece, the clock would not be able to work.  We are that clock.  Gestalt psychology suggests that we are more than the sum of our parts; however each part is a system within a system that interconnects and is intertwined for our holistic perspective as a human being.

So perhaps the real question isn’t the importance of any one part but the boundaries of each particular part.  Coaching is intended to help maintain this balance and harmony of all parts of each system as they interrelate and connect to the whole for a more effective holistic relationship and working system.  Think of the idea of stress.  We cannot exist without stress, yet too much stress becomes harmful.  What is the perfect balance or ratio?  The answer is that this balance is unique to each person.  There is no one right answer or one size fits all.  The answer is the ability of the coach to embrace a variety of perspectives to help the client determine what works best for them at this moment—fully understanding the fluid and dynamic nature of change.  Some believe that balance is the goal.  Cavanagh (2006) believes that “it is not a place of balance between stability and instability but a paradoxical state of irresolvable contradictory forces (Stacey, 2000)  . . . where the tension between these forces elicits creativity and innovation” (p. 319).  What do you believe?

Now back to the ‘News You Can Use’ part of this lecture segment.  How does this specifically help you?  What can you take away from this today?  Remember my goal is to help you see—with new eyes—what is already there—the same as the foundational goals of the coaching process.

Great points for us to ponder this week.  Let’s tug on these strings a wee bit more as we move into our discussions and see where this takes us.

Enjoy your week and happy thinking!


Dr. Cheryl Lentz
Chief Refractive Thinker®
The Refractive Thinker® Press, where discriminating scholars publish.  

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Connors, R., Smith, T., & Hickman, C. (2004). The Oz Principle: Getting results through individual and organizational accountability. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Stober, D. R., & Grant, A. M. (Eds.). (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

July 21st, 2011 by admin

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