An Interview With Richard Michaels
Omega: How can coaching play a role in social change?
Richard: Meaningful social change is built on a foundation of connection and understanding. Deep listening and empowering questions are two coaching tools that support these basic and profound tools.
When we listen with full attention and an open mind, we relate to others through our direct experience rather than through filters of the past. It opens the window to our commonalities and seeing the inherent value of others. We view our differences within a new context wherein those very differences enhance what is possible.
Questions stimulate our conscious and unconscious mind to see into the heart of the matter. We are able to respond to the pressing needs of the moment. Curious and provocative questions empower others to see themselves and what is uniquely suited to the challenges of the moment.
In Coaching for Transformation, we look at all aspects of a person and the topic at hand. We are not looking for a premade formulas for “success.” If there is anger present, we provide the space for our client to gain understanding of it. If there’s sadness, we’re curious about it, so the client can experience it rather than think happy thoughts and bury it further. If there’s fear, we are present with it instead of circumventing it. When there is love, joy, or inspiration, we follow that. Prematurely steering into solutions misses the insights that come from engaging with the reality of emotions and thoughts as they naturally appear. They have an intelligence of their own which comes out when given space through our listening and through our questions.
Coaching is a process that supports awareness of what’s happening. It opens doorways and possibilities for new choices and action. Coaching is a catalyst for change, one person, community, or organization at a time.
Omega: What’s your best tip for becoming a better listener?
Richard: When you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Pause.
When we don’t know what to say and we try to sound good or reach for the right answer, we are not fully behind what we are saying. It doesn’t have the ring of truth or a meaningful impact.
When we slow down and allow for space to breathe, be present, and be silent, our intuition has a chance to kick in. The other person’s intuition and self-reflection leads to insight. This makes all the difference in a coaching session, a business conversation, or a conversation with a spouse. None of the above are served by quick fixes. Slowing down is the fastest way forward.
Omega: How can people use coaching skills in their community?
Richard: The fundamental ability to slow down and actually hear each other in community enables us to understand one another and to avoid energy-wasting reactivity. When we listen, question, and name what is present rather than trying to impose our fixed opinions and positions, it brings a sense of being in this together. The ability to listen is a natural bridge builder and unifier.
Slowing down and becoming more harmonized within ourselves, we are naturally in greater harmony with others. We can open up and at the same time are not driven by our own hidden agendas. We are more in touch with our power.
Learning how to draw people out with questions, listening, silence, space to breath, and naming what we see present in others, ignites a creative spark in a community or a meeting, whether it’s with 2, 20, or 2,000 people. The coaching approach can help turn differing viewpoints into common needs, values, and goals.
Omega: Can you talk about integrity and how that impacts our relationships?
Richard: Our tone of voice, expression, and feelings come through our communication. People get what we feel, not just what we say. Integrity, or alignment between our words, thoughts, and feelings, makes all the difference in communication with our loved ones, colleagues, or friends. Our internal integrity is our foundation. When that is on a firm footing, we are over half way to being in integrity with others. People can feel that.
Omega: The lessons coaching teaches sound a lot like mindfulness. How are they related?
Richard: Mindfulness is a method of being aware. Meaningful and effective communication depends on awareness. Coaching and other related professions—psychology, teaching, consulting—use awareness to deepen understanding.
Mindfulness is used in the great spiritual traditions, sciences, and the arts. Mindfulness is paying attention to “what is” versus “what we want it to be.” Mindfulness reboots our computer, so we are more in touch with the needs, energy, and direct experience of the moment.
Coaching is a process that supports an individual, a group, or an organization in seeing things clearly and hence in breaking new ground. Fritz Pearls. the father of Gestalt psychology said all learning comes from discovery and all discovery comes from awareness. Coaching relies on awareness as a basic tool in discovering who we are and what our world calls for. Coaching supports clients in translating that awareness into action. The action component is one of the distinguishing features of coaching.
The coaching process engages and empowers people to be the captain of their own life and action. Coaches use listening, empowering questions, and a host of other skills. Through greater awareness and action, we can change the world.
Richard Michaels, cofounder and partner of the Coaching for Transformation program, says coaching has a role to play in social change.
© 2017 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
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