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Posted By Ken Smith, 01 July 2017

We live in an analytical world.  We look for causes, break things down, tie bits of them together again, transfer and translate, interpret, infer and weave in some old and new meanings; all so we can get by and get along.  And when we do these things as coaches, working with someone who wants to make sense of a part of their world whose meaning has slipped behind a cloud for a while, whereabouts do we, the coach, need to be? 

I was running a workshop recently, introducing some internal coaches to Clean Language.  This is an approach which, to put it very crudely, has a certain an anti-analytical attitude; an anti-“the coach clearly knows what’s going on here” stance. It’s about really believing the old adage that clients have their own best, most useful answers tucked away somewhere.  

A couple of the participants in the workshop felt that using Clean Language lessened a coach’s presence, with the coach simply working to a set menu of questions and leaving themselves coldly outside, behind a glass wall.  It’s an entirely reasonable first response by coaches who prefer, by virtue of training, education, wider culture and whatever else, to work interpretatively and to bring more external content into their coaching conversations. 

For me, using Clean Language actually helps me to be more present.  But the workshop left me thinking again about the “presence” thing. 

When it comes to coaching, I suspect that the parties involved would generally agree that presence has less to do with what you might call a charismatic impact and more to do with a deeper experience of connection and of really being listened to. 

The paradox though seems to be, that the way you listen to others is tangled up with how you listen to yourself.  So presence can be something that arises from your own mindfulness - or perhaps from your own mindlessness, as you let go of your prejudices and preferences and cleverness, at those times when you get a sense that they are playing around and playing up. 

We are, bizarrely, more present when we are not in others’ lines of sight; when we’ve got out of the way. 

Still, to be present, there has to be somebody else there, which makes presence both a quality of attention and an experience shared.  Though it does not quite do justice to their various nuances, you could say that when you are mindful, you are present with yourself; when you are present you are mindful with others.


Ken Smith

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