This article was originally written by Michael Hall - gently edited by The Coaching Room
I have written before about the relationships between content and structure and focused on making sure you have grounded the coaching conversation in the everyday world that’s real for the client. Now let’s turn to the subject of structure. If we want to focus 70 to 80 percent of our attention to structure— what are we talking about and how do we do that?
Structure refers to the processes by which an experience is created and maintained. As a meaning-maker you construct your “experiences” using the representational systems. To make that explicit, we use the NLP Strategy Model and identify the representational steps in the person’s strategy for creating procrastination, indecision, perfectionism, efficiency, accelerated learning, or any of ten-thousand human experiences.
But there’s a trick in this. You have to shift your thinking to correctly understand structure. That’s because structure is not static or stable. It is a mistake to think of structure in the human being as a you think of the structure of a building or of any other tangible “thing.” We are not talking about things, we are talking about a human experience which by its very nature as fluid and dynamic are constantly changing. In this instance, it maintains its identity, it’s sense of consistency and stability by continual activity.
Here’s a way to think about it. The stability of a human experience is like that of riding a bicycle. To ride a bicycle in keeping it upright, you have to be continually pedaling and/or moving back and forth on the bike. If you stop pedaling, the bike will not remain upright. It will fall over.
And since you are on the bike, you will also fall over! To keep the bike stable and upright, you keep pedaling and balancing yourself on the bike. It is a dynamic stability— an equilibrium that arises by constant motion. So also the dynamic stability of our experiences— in order to keep having an experience (depression, joyfulness, seriousness, playfulness, learning, confusion, etc.) you have to keep the strategy activated and operational. And yes, this is a very different way of thinking.
Now, knowing that, any experience your coaching client is having, that person is creating it in every moment. Does that mean the person is doing it consciously or even conscious of it? No, it does not! In fact, it is more likely to be outside-of-conscious awareness than inside it. That’s because strategies habitualise and drop out of awareness and so we say that they operate unconsciously. Yet even though you or your client do not know it, they are still doing the strategy. They are doing it outside-of-conscious awareness. The strategy now seems to have “a life of its own.”
Knowing that, your first task is to find out how your client is creating his or her experience. If he is feeling like a victim— that is what he is doing. In some way and in some process, he is creating the representations and commissioning his body to access that state. And the structure could involve just one thing or a great many. It could involve any of the following—
- Using a reference from his past that he steps in and re-experiences.
- Using a metaphor that summarises his conclusion about being a victim.
- Using a belief about his incapacities or a belief about a dim future or a belief about a cruel world out there.
- Using an identity that locks in a misunderstanding from childhood.
- Using a decision that now blocks him from getting free from the victimhood.
- Using a prohibition that stops him; “Being proactive means being aggressive.”
- Using any one of a hundred frames that holds and keeps activating the experience in place.
That’s because, as you well know— the person is not the problem; the frame is the problem! So as a Meta-Coach, your job is to find the frame. Do that and you are working with the structure rather than the content. Regarding the cause of the problem, the content doesn’t matter. What matters is the frame that the person is using. That is the key to change and transformation.
As a Meta-Coach as you now coach structure, you look for the hidden processes of representing, framing, believing, deciding, etc. and how the person uses those processes to then embody, incorporate, or as we say mind-to-muscle what they know intelligently so it becomes neurological patterns in their body. All of this requires that you move from content to structure and then back to content again and again. That’s why you need a thorough (underline that, a thorough) understanding of two models — the Meta-Model and the Meta-States Model. The first one enables you to get the real-world referents so you can ground the coaching conversation. The second one enables you to get the meta-level framework that holds the dynamic structure of the person’s experience.
In Module I of Meta-Coaching you learned the Meta-Model. Yet to really learn it and know it in a thorough way, get Communication Magic (2001) so that you can make the Meta-Model your foundational model. Executive Thinking (2018) will give you more about both models as well as the essence of critical thinking skills.
In Module II of Meta-Coaching you learned the Meta-States Model and you applied it to your “genius coaching state.” Yet that is only the beginning. That is described in the book, Secrets of Personal Mastery (1997). You can read much more in Meta-State Magic, Meta-States (2012), Dragon Slaying (1997), Winning the Inner Game (2006), etc. It is the Meta-States model that enables you to think more systemically about the dynamic processes and to recognise that within every single meta-level (a belief or decision or identity, etc.) is every other meta-level. And that is the key to truly working with structure.