17 Oct 2013 | Coaching

Old Romantic coaching 2nd October 2013

In September 1976 I left Britain for the start of my gap year. The plan was to spend a few months working in an hotel in Zurich, do some globe trotting and return to the UK the following autumn to begin a degree in economics and business.

The experience was somewhat desolate for several reasons. One of these was the fairly quick realisation that I was heading in a wrong direction. The clients in my hotel were business people that were by and large, brash, successful, rude, male and in suits. I didn’t like them. Coupled with this work-place backdrop was the fact that I was lonely. I won’t go into all that right now (I’m saving it for the autobiography) but one way to alleviate the after-hours solitude was by reading.

A colleague had recommended a second-hand book shop which was a short walk from where I lived in Stampfenbachstrasse. He told me that every few weeks the porter would take a case load of books left by clients and sold them to the old lady owner. If I went there I’d find loads of English books at very cheap prices. He was right. I found salvation in the pages of great Americans such Hemingway, Steinbeck Salinger and Max Shulman. The owner became very used to seeing me twice, even three times a week. I’d buy a book for three francs and days later would sell it back for two. Not good economics, but excellent for my hitherto paltry knowledge of literature.

After a while this bookshop became my private library. The lady, who had noticed I was returning the books in good condition, offered me the opportunity to simply borrow them. Now it was her sense of economics that was faltering but I suppose looking back at it, she noted my anguished aura and wanted to be kind. Whether it was the lady’s good nature or the bookish escape coupled with the magnet of the arts, I knew I could not pursue my studies in economics and business. It had to be something greater.

A year later I was more comfortably ensconced in a degree course in Literature. I was taking a module in the History of Ideas. Subtitled ‘the history of science in civilisation,’ it was a fascinating insight into science for people that cannot add up too well. I remember that one of the lecturers talked about how in the late fifties the writer CP Snow wrote about the two cultures and how in the Oxbridge professors’ dining rooms the science and the arts dons sat at separate tables for years on end and never spoke to each other. They supposedly all thought the others were beneath them. Apparently Snow initially thought the arts boys bore more guilt and had an unjustifiably privileged place in education. As an arts student I however was only too happy to subscribe to the Art = Good, Science = Dumb camp.

Even within my major subject of English Literature I found myself siding with the romantic poets and their emphasising intuition over reason and the natural over the urban. I did this in art too. I decided, almost as a point of honour, to sign up to the Baudelaire ‘thing’ that romanticism was right as it was a sense of feeling as opposed to being situated in either the selection of subject or in an exact truth. (To be honest I found this by exploring a Marc Bolan line about ‘Baudelaire hair’).

The point was that throughout my developing years I had a deep sense that feeling, intuition, holistic perspective and empathy were of greater importance than reason and logic. This was undoubtedly because I had low confidence in my own ability to do the logical science type things but also because I directly associated science, and economics with the fore mentioned surly businessmen and saw no reason to change my mind.

And so to the present.

For the last eleven years I have been involved in coaching and training. It started off quite well but as more people joined the game and the recession arrived, work for all of us has become harder to gain.

I have also noticed a distinct effort to apply scientific rationales to these skills involved in what I consider a cynical attempt to turn an art into a science because the latter is currently considered to be more ‘sensible’. I even withdrew my membership from an organisation that took me three years to join because I was getting tired of their journals becoming filled with white PhD style papers that were boring, stuffy, lengthy and pompous.

My belief is that coaching is like Romantic poetry. It is pastoral inasmuch as it works at ground level. It really does not need convoluted linguistic terminology (i.e. long words) nor does the coach need hundreds of hours of catalogued contact (which by the way, I do have!) A coach is somebody who is born with the capacity to listen effectively and to guide with the slightest and most naturalistic of nudges. If you want to gain a doctorate, become a psychotherapist, psychiatrist or an anything else that the rest of us find hard to spell. If you want to be a coach – just do it, quietly.

I was really heartened to read an excellent article in the IfL’s InTuition Magazine by Jim Douglas, FIfL.  InTuition Issue 14 Autumn 2013 ifl.ac.uk He explains that by using what he calls a ‘Coaching Approach’ assessors and teachers by combining a holistic over view with emotional intelligence and intuition (that word again), can support learners much more effectively than by using a wholly didactic approach. He uses terms like ‘motivations’ and ‘feelings’ and proves that an atomistic approach is inefficient and inaccurate.

Please read it, it makes much more sense than any review I could ever produce.