Lynn Schoener 

September 13th, 2012

Coaching Creatively

Staying in the "Tension of Opposites"


We have a number of metaphors to illustrate the "tension of opposites."


When you want to "have your cake and eat it too," it means that you want the rewards without the risk, the pleasure of gain without the pain of loss. When you experience being "between a rock and a hard place," you are describing a double bind, where each choice presents a problem.


Listen for the "tension of opposites" to surface during coaching. It is a conflict between what the coachee wants in the future, and what that change will cost in the present. It's the "yes, but" conversation that is at the heart of coaching:


"I want to ask for a raise, but I don't want to appear greedy or ungrateful."

"I want to exercise more, but I don't want to cut into my family time."

"I want to be a better listener, but my teenager will interpret my listening as agreement with his/her bad choices."


The "tension of opposites" is released in one of two ways. If the coachee chooses one option and lets go of the other, the resistance is gone. They either recommit to the goal with gusto or, more likely, take themselves off the hook, and nothing changes. The second way holds more promise for positive change. If the coachee can stay in that tension, with your support, a new understanding of the problem often emerges. With that shift in seeing, alternative solutions flow.


There are assumptions built into every perceived dilemma, that a positive action will create a negative reaction. Do they have the data to support that assumption? For example, is better listening guaranteed to give the teenager a free pass? What if the reverse could be true? Would they be willing to test their theory? Use the Ladder of Inference to guide your conversation.


What is the reason behind wanting more money, more muscle, more connection? Are there others ways to achieve the end in mind? Using another example, is it simply more money, or is something else missing in the job satisfaction equation? Discover that driver by asking them to "say more," and you can help a coachee shape a different, potentially more productive exchange with the boss.


If the only resistance to exercise is having to sacrifice family time, the easy answer for some people is to exercise as a family. Here's the thing: time is not the only issue creating the tension. It's often just the excuse. If you discuss the way the coachee has invested themselves in each role of his/her life, you'll see a life organized around not exercising. Their partner/spouse role, their parent role, their worker role, their friend role, their church and community role, and their personal role can be rethought as integrated systems to support better health. What can be negotiated in each of the six systems to prioritize exercise?


When the issue is no longer seen by the coachee as an "either-or" dilemma, the "tension of opposites" yields its' pent-up energy to a new way of getting at the goal. Stay in the tension long enough for the "both-and" conversation to begin.


I am off to Switzerland! Amy will guest write the next coachNote as I enjoy long walks in alpine meadows with my guy, our Swiss friends, and my new FitBit!


Hugs, Lynn




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