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ASK, NOT TELL

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Care first, then Dare


I recently had chance to hear George Kohlrieser talking about his ‘Secure Base Leadership’. It was insightful to see how he role-modeled what he advocates in his book, especially around the concept of ‘Care to Dare’. Whilst the concept was originally meant for hostage negotiation and leadership, it is very relevant to coaching, or helping in general. I would thus like to reflect on this here.


When I first read about the ‘Care to Dare’ concept, like most I questioned in my mind ‘Is it just 're-packaging' the ‘Support and Challenge’ concept in coaching or helping work?’ But on further reflection, I realise that they are very different. The latter concept is about balancing our supportive (e.g. listening, acknowledging) and challenging (e.g. enquiring into blind spots) behaviors in coaching. But the former is actually NOT about balancing. It is 100% about CARE That is why George’s book is called ‘Care to Dare’, but NOT ‘Care and Dare’. And it is almost like this blog topic - 'Care first, then Dare'.


In the coaching world, it means the coach cares so much that he / she can really dare the client, even say, at the risk of being disliked. So, CARE is the foundation leading to DARE. And what do we really mean by CARE and DARE? I interpret CARE here as both the coach’s inner experience e.g. accepting and valuing the client as a person, and observable bonding behaviors e.g. listening, acknowledging. And DARE includes behaviors like challenging blind spots, speaking to the undiscussable.


So, how may ‘Care to Dare’ look like? As an example, when the client again launches into a speech of how the world is unfair to him and asks the coach to provide the ‘answer’, a secure base coach (so to speak) will point out unapologetically how such ‘not taking responsibility’ pattern is showing up in the coaching (with good bonding established in place already). The coach knows that it would spare both from discomfort if she does not confront and instead joins him in ‘analyzing’ the unfair world. But she also knows not intervening would be against his stated desire to be more proactive e.g. taking charge instead of blaming.


Why would the ‘Care to Dare’ concept help the helping?


In George’s language, we all need someone to accompany us to go through the grief process from previous loss in order to move towards our desire. This includes having a caring person daring us to move away from the comfort or inertia of existing 'hostage situation'.


Specifically, the ‘Care to Dare’ concept gives a productive and action-able rationale for daring or challenging intervention. When coaches are hesitated to dare, the approach can empower us to do so.


Second, it reminds us that in order to be effective, DARE should be out of CARE, instead of other reasons e.g. to show-off, to feel good about self / belittle the clients, to practice newly-learnt techniques, or to ‘problem-solve’… again… like Sherlock Holmes. We got to ask ourselves and work with supervisors or other reflective practices to understand ‘our own stuff’.


There is another amazing dynamics between CARE and DARE. When DARE is out of CARE skillfully, the act can actually strengthen the CARE (or secure base using George’s language). Imagine someone who takes the trouble to pull you to the side tactfully and tell you the bad breath you have. You would probably feel embarrassed in the beginning. But when you realize the person can actually keep the feedback to herself and does nothing, you would probably feel being cared for.


The next question is of course ‘How to put it into practice?’ We can borrow ideas from the 9 Secure Base Leader characteristics mentioned by George (available in his book) into the coaching context. The followings are a few implications I think of. Most are not new practices in coaching but this ‘Care to Dare’ approach does give new meaning to them:


Be conscious of our intention – It is worthwhile to spend some time to reflect on questions like ‘What do I really think of the client?’, ‘Do I have a positive Mind’s Eye on the person?’ See also my previous reflection ‘She Helps But She Does not Care’.


Coach’s sharing – This may sound controversial to some coaching schools of thoughts around neutrality. Here is my reason – like in Patrick Lencioni’s ‘5 Dysfunctions of a Team’, people need vulnerability-based trust in order to have productive conflict. So, the idea is for the coach to display personal disclosure for bonding but not to the extent taking over coachee’s learning space / attention.


Contracting – We all know it is important to any (helping) relationship. A particular stress here is to explicitly legitimize and positively frame the daring behaviors. This may include lines of enquiry like ‘How much do you want me to be a NICE vs a KIND coach?’ Or in a group coaching setting ‘How much do you want us to be NICE or KIND to each other?’


Goal – Take time to work out what our own and clients' desires are. The clearer they are, the easier for daring to be given by the coach and taken by the client.


Seeking permission – Even certain daring behaviors have been explicitly contracted, it would help ask for permission before, say, enquiring which may be perceived as intrusive.


What else do you think of?

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