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Parallel; parallel processes; coaching

I’ve been coaching for so long now and enjoy it more than ever. The endless fascination of working with other human beings, generally extremely talented and very successful, and the unique nature of each relationship leads to profound satisfaction.

After all these years a source of wonder for me, no matter how often they happen, are parallel processes. As you no doubt know, and at its very simplest, I’m talking about things that happen in the session which have parallels with events, conditions or behaviours in the client’s world.  Phenomena experienced by the coach based on the dynamics between the coach and coachee. The coachee’s “system” manifesting itself in different ways in the coaching.

It’s one of the reasons why my strong preference is to coach in person, with perhaps some flexibility to switch to Skype, videoconferencing or ‘phone for individual sessions. I know not all coaches agree with me, in fact only yesterday I was told by a fellow practitioner that they saw this as “limiting”.  I’m not so sure – I’ve written before about how noticing and intuition are core to my practice. And I believe that creating precise conditions for coaching lead to breakthroughs and, to my point in writing this article, to spotting parallel processes.

I’m studying again at Ashridge Business School at present and we have been revisiting parallel processes as they present themselves in coaching supervision so perhaps I’m quite tuned into the concept right now. I must ensure I don’t see them everywhere. That said….

Only last week I was working with an outstanding man, someone who doesn’t really realise how good he is and whom I look forward to seeing each time I spot him in my diary. One of the organisational conditions he is grappling with is “overload”, with everyone trying to do too much and a lack of focus. He’s conspiring with it. I’ve highlighted it but maybe didn’t need to. He knows it.

And what happened in the latest session? His world was brought into the room in a powerful way. I felt overloaded. I noticed a lack of focus in the session. And, as we whittled down our objectives, we were recognising and starting to work with his interference outside the coaching room: achieving less than he might by trying to take on too much. At a personal and, given his seniority, organisational level.  

By noticing and bringing this to the surface, and by encouraging exploration of what  was going on, we started to craft an interesting agenda from the ideas he generated in the following half hour. An agenda which I believe will move him forward and could make him and his business more successful. 

And so…the parallel world needs a window onto it in the coaching room. Being acutely atuned to parallel processes is one way of opening that window. It’s really powerful. Ensure it’s in your coaching armoury.