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ASK, NOT TELL

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‘Relations’ Rather Than ‘Parts’


I enjoy the diagnosis as much as the intervention part of my work. I always derive a lot of fun and learn a lot in working out with the sponsors on enquiry like ‘What is really going on?’. Or to be more exact – ‘What may also be going on?’. Often, I find such diagnostic work to be value-adding, or as an intervention itself, to the underlying issue already. For example, the question – ‘What was the last time you told the person about this issue, and how did the person respond?’ tend to trigger new realization. … although from time to time, doing so was ‘self-destructive’ to my business :) …. hopefully in the short term.


One diagnostic angle is to think system. ‘System-Thinking’ is a big word these days. For me, it is about examining the whole, especially the relations among the parts, instead of the parts themselves.


In fact, this is one of the reasons why using external consultants. By being outside the system(s), we are more free (not entirely though) to have a more wholistic view. But ‘System-Thinking’ yield advantages more than just ‘having the big picture’.


One thing I find it useful is to recognize that in order to intervene a system, it is much more productive to look into the how parts interact rather than what each part is. In other word, it would be a big miss if we just study the parts themselves. Theo Compernolle wrote once a beautiful analogy - by studying individual knights (in chess), we learn only things about wood, plastic, etc. We only then learn about its 'values / other properties' (in relationship with other pieces) by studying it in an actual game.


A recent Guardian article on Quantum Theory very interestingly illustrates the point as well. Though it is meant to discuss physical system, I see the relevance to human system as well. A few great quotes from the article:

  • ‘…it [Quantum Theory] does not tell us how physical systems behave. Instead, it confines itself to predicting the probability that a physical system will affect us in one way or another…’

  • ‘…Perhaps it really does reveal to us the deep structure of reality, where a property is no more than something that affects something else…’

  • ‘…Perhaps this is precisely what “properties” are: the effects of interactions. A good scientific theory, then, should not be about how things “are”, or what they “do”: it should be about how they affect one another…’

  • ‘…It pushes us to rethink reality in terms of relations instead of objects, entities or substances…’

  • ‘…Reality is not a collection of things, it’s a network of processes…’

Taking the above to reflect on the case of Aspiration Bridge Company (pseudonym) on the previous post. It is possible that a coach took on the request as an 1:1 executive coaching assignment, as often presented by clients, and focused on the part. The notion that if that troubled individual is ‘fixed’, the ‘problem’ will be solved. In taking on as such, the coach may approach as e.g. studying personal history / pattern how change-resistant the coachee has been, conducting a MBTI to realize her in-born ‘TJ’-ness, or identifying the ‘Skeptical’ and ‘Cautious’ derailers in HDS, or being more positively-oriented to locate her hidden strength / past success in being receptive to changes, etc.


All these may help enhance the person’s ‘Will’ and ‘Skill’ to be more change-welcoming. But given the limited intervention time as always, we would have deprive ourselves of identifying stronger leverages (another great concept in the field of System-Thinking) if we do not think system. For example, in Aspiration Bridge Company case, the system angle enabled me to see the interaction between the person with another player as a reinforcing loop fueled by more than intra-personal tendency and inter-personal conflict. They were probably mobilized by the splits in the organization. They were like playing the roles of ‘rebel’ and ‘conservative’ for the others.


It turned out that having the 2 'symbolic players' reconciled in front of others was a pretty strong leverage.

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