21 August 2005

Life Coaching, Career Counselling, and Role* (RoleStar)

I’ve been nosing around a number of websites run by self-styled life coaches, and they mostly seem to convey two common themes: “I will change your life, but won’t tell you anything except infomercial-grade stuff until you hire me”; and “basically, what I do is act as a nanny/mother/spouse and kick your butt to do what you know you should be doing anyway.”

I don’t do that sort of “coaching.”

Similarly, I don’t examine your traits and skills, and I don’t administer questionnaires that purport to determine your personality “type.” In fact, there is considerable evidence that once people are assigned to a label or a type according to some classification scheme, they tend to “love their label as their self,” to misquote McLuhan.

When applied to career coaching, it means that I won’t tell you what job you’re suited for, or where your aptitudes lie. And, if you think about it for a bit, you may share my observation that aptitude and trait-based job selection and placement dominates hiring practices today, and yet almost every survey and piece of research I’ve seen places job dissatisfaction rates between 40% and 60%. Drilling down to the reasons for the dissatisfaction and lack of engagement, the most frequent cause has little to do with what you do, but rather, the dynamics of the environment in which you do it.

What we know from McLuhan’s approach to understanding media is that this “environment” of which we speak is entirely constructed by the interactions, and effects that we create through those interactions. As I have found through my research, most people are unaware of these effects, and especially the patterns of these effects that occur throughout their lives. This, of course, is consistent with such patterns comprising an environmental ground, or context, within which we enact our various jobs and roles. Becoming aware of these patterns takes considerable awareness and introspection.

Introspection is often an elusive commodity, even when one is offered the time, space and opportunity for reflection. From my experience with my research participants, it seems that even when one focuses on aspects of one’s own life, connections among disparate parts of highly compartmentalized lives do not come easily. And, it is from the connections among disparate elements that meaning often emerges.

Case in point: In all instances, my participants did not realize the commonality of their role* aspects among work and non-work environments. Neither did they realize the commonality of their role* aspects among multiple jobs, roles, avocations, and situations, prior to participating in the role* conversation. Additionally, when I identified their individual recurring patterns and motivating/demotivating aspects, they were unanimously surprised, and agreed that these aspects did indeed have meaning and resonance in the context of their lives. One mid-career participant in particular found that explicating her role* aspects brought significant clarity and a sense of consistency to otherwise disparate and confusing facets of her life. This suggests the importance of the specific process and aspects of discovery that are enabled by the role* approach to sense- and meaning-making for a wide array of work/life situations.

During a more recent conversation with this participant, the idea was put to the test. She related the details of a meeting that left her feeling insecure, anxious and “superfluous.” On further probing, I discovered that the specific interactions that occurred during this meetings precluded her from enacting any of her role* motivating aspects. I pointed out to her that perhaps it was the absence of a viable expression of a major role* attribute that she was experiencing as anxiety and feeling superfluous. I offered her the suggestion that, being aware of this dynamic, she might try to find another expression of a role* aspect that could counter her negative and demotivating feelings. She subsequently reported that this indeed worked, and allowed her to make an unexpected contribution elsewhere, preventing her from spiralling into a lengthy period of depression, as was her previous pattern.

This suggests another possible use for having an awareness of role* aspects. Role* aspects can be deliberately actualized by individuals to counter the negative effects of job or role situations that are beyond the ability of a person to change. This is not to say that role* reveals some sort of universal or absolute truth about a person. Rather, role* seems to provide a useful and effective mechanism that can assist in achieving a measure of self-awareness and self-actualization. When this thought is applied to either life coaching or career counselling, it suggests that an awareness of your own role* aspects will help you break through your personal blockages, and become re-engaged with what you do. Additionally, it allows you to take control over the environmental dynamics, especially when you cannot control the circumstances themselves.

Isn’t that more useful than handing you a label, or kicking your butt?
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jo_jo said...

LOL - I agree, Mark, labelling and butt-kicking aren't great ways to actually help people. But what you describe as part of the Role* process greatly resembles the coaching concept of personal values. It's incredibly difficult to write about this stuff in an understandable way, let alone a way that uses "marketing-speak"; I've been trying for a couple of months now. The best way is to show someone how it works by delivering a free sample - so that's what these websites are actually doing, trying to get people to call for a sample - to demonstrate through the interaction.

That being said I'd love to hear any ideas you have about communicating the process in other ways. If that's how coaches and coaching is coming across to you, we need all the help we can get.

Mark Federman said...

It's not actually personal values (at least as I would interpret that phrase) that I use. Rather, in the Role* Discovery Conversation, I facilitate the conversation in such a way that the participant begins to change the focus of their narrative from the incident (say) to the effects of the incident. When describing an interaction with another person, they change their focus from the interaction per se to the effects of the interaction.

During the conversation, I have always found that a pattern of similar effects inevitably emerges. While the incidents and circumstances may be completely without commonality, the effects perceived by the individual as a result of the facilitation form distinct patterns that link directly to engagement/motivation and/or disengagement/demotivation. It is the linking of these patterns that allow my participants to make personal breakthroughs in understanding their lives, their prior actions, and most important, understanding how they can actualize their motivators, especially in situations over which they have little or no control.

To the best of my knowledge, no one else uses this approach, since I just invented it as part of my graduate research (hence, as far as I and my supervisors could tell from literature reviews and long experience in the fields of both organization development and counselling psychology, it is indeed original).

Ligaya said...

This is a little too vague for us who do not have many resources to read about role*. Would you please direct us, your readers, to the sites where we can first acquaint ourselves with it?

Mark Federman said...

Role* is (my) brand new research, just developed within the last six months, and about to be more widely published in the academic literature. In the meantime, this post provides links to a number of posts on my blog that describes various aspects of role*.