Reluctant Volunteers


2004-7-25

This seems to a common theme in coaching/tutoring/teaching situations: someone comes for help, but given an advice is not really willing to implement it.

A general example might be the person going to a doctor because of ill health and not being willing to give up smoking when advises to do so. But in coaching or tutoring this takes more subtle, less obvious forms. Very often the person already knows all that is needed to do, but won't do it for some reason or the other. And I really think only helping those who will readily implement the advice given is too easy. I begin to believe that the inability to implement 'the right thing' is actualy the major problem for most people seeking a coach. The fact that they take that step in the first place shows that they are actualy willing, and often they really already do know most of what one can tell them. But for some reason or the other they can't or won't take that knowledge and act upon it. How many people read tons of books on a given topic and still make all the mistakes they have been told about to avoid by said books?

So the question for me here is how to deal with this phenomenon of 'reluctant volunteers' as a coach/tutor. How can I reach the volunteer behind the reluctance? How can I help a person get past the (self inflicted) blocks to 'start doing what is right' for him/her?

A given first step is to indentify exactly those blocks. What is keeping the person from acting upon better knowledge?

NLP (Neuro Linguistc Programming) teaches us that we are all controlled by a set of 'programs' we acqured in the course of our lifetimes, and that very often these programs might have made sense once but more often stand in our way later on. So following the NLP line most (all) of the blocks a person encounters a due to prior training/experience and can/should be replaced by newer/better programs. But in practice this can be a closed circle at times. Getting at and changing those old programs can be difficult for exactly the same reasons one is trying to do it in the first place.

So knowing what blocks a person is often only so usefull. What we need is a way to 'get past' that block to the person behind. We need to take a detour, some other (maybe lesser known and lesser guarded) inroad.

One very powerfull way is to try and use modes of perception that are unfamilliar to the person in question. The chance here is to find a perception that is not well trained and therefor also has few 'guardian' programs installed. For many people in our western logic-oriented world going through emotions or dreams works very well. Once the initial fear of these topics is overcome (we are trained not to trust emotions or dreams), working with both can be very valuable.

sidenote: An important point lies in the last sentence: trust. The person needs to be able to trust the coach and also him/herself.

So the the approach of 'trying something new' in a safe environment (coaching) is a valuable one. The concept of 'games' comes into play here. Playing games is one of the few places where we still allow ourselves to explore unknown territory. Another well established in-road is that of 'trusting the expert'. This is - in my opinion - how classical doctor/patient situations work. The doctor effetively stimulates the self-healing of the patient. So one could argue that the patient is actually 'doing the work'. Well, sure. But most people can't stimulate their body/soul into self healing. and need help doing so.

I personaly prefer the approach of teaching people to be self-relying. I would rather like to teach people how to (self)train. So I prefer approaches that make the person aware of her own powers.

But regardless of the approach, the goal is to bypass or circumvent the possibly very strong blocks that are keeping a person, and work from the 'inside out'. Doing 'something new' seems to be a very valuable way to do this.

And obviously, this also very much applies to situations where we only deal with ourselves...

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