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Lately I have been studying the art of Yi Quan. It is a practice developed by a Chinese martial arts master Wang Xiangzhai. Perhaps the most fundamental differentiating thing in this practice is that it focuses heavily on the inner practice. Instead of learning lots of different postures and moves (external form), the practitioner seeks to develop the inner core of the practice where the force and the movement comes out naturally. The practice itself is at best essentially formless – the practitioner finds his own way of moving by being alert and awake to his body and mind. There is something very similar in this practice that I seek in the practice of Wu Wei Coaching. The form itself isn’t very important, it is the inner practice that counts.

About the Fixed methods

There are hundreds of different coaching methods and models that one can use and repeat over and over again. There are simple models such as “five whys”, “using I-language” and “GROW” and then there are more complex models like NVC, ReTeaming and many different models developed for organizational transformations (e.g. Scrum & kanban, although these aren’t coaching models per se, they are used much the same way). More are invented and sold by consultants & coaches every day.

The benefit of these simple fixed techniques is that one can teach them rather quickly to others who can then use these techniques in a very little time. They are concrete and identifiable, usually with catching name or acronym, so that a coachee can easily feel being “coached”. The same analogy can be seen e.g. in fitness boxing where the instructor gives the practitioner a pair of boxing gloves and five minutes of instructions for the basic technique of punching a bag. Then they can proceed to have a good 60 minutes of work-out.

However, in my mind this kind of coaching is very mechanistic. It might work reasonably well if the client is intelligent and willing and the focus is on solving some specific problem. But I would argue that it isn’t really the model/technique that is doing the work here. I think it is the change in the dialogue that is possibly helping the client. The usual way of having a conversation is changed by holding on to a fixed form of having a conversation. This change can affect the course of the dialogue and thinking enough to reveal new viewpoints to the situation. But how many times can you use the same method before it just starts to repeat itself? As an analogy, if you are sparring with somebody in the boxing ring, perhaps you can hit him few times with your jab, but if it is the only thing you can do it doesn’t last long when he learns how to tackle it.

If you have multiple techniques you can use, then this problem is of course mitigated. You can switch from “GROW”, to “ACT” and “SMART” and perhaps with more experience even combine these to “SCART”. Still I would say that it is quite easy for the client to see where you are going with these questions and techniques and you are quickly drained out of ideas. To use the same analogue in boxing: You possess few techniques and combinations, but the opponent can easily learn your tricks and adapt to your style and tempo.

Formless method

In the past I have used many of those fixed methods myself, with more and less success. However, my current approach is to try to go beyond the methods. I sometimes might use specific methodologies as a plan B, but I find myself more than often reaching towards the unknown – even if there are lots of uncertainty involved. Wu Wei Coaching is an attempt to make this approach somewhat tangible for myself and others.

Like in Yi Quan, I see the most important goal for the coach to be the building of the inner practice. That inner practice will materialize as different forms in the daily life, but those forms aren’t necessarily predefined or practiced beforehand. Rather they are something that emerge out of the situation. As we all know, people and organizations are complex beings. Actually I like to think of them as complex responsive processes of relating. The meaning that is cast upon a particular situation isn’t fixed at all. All the participants have their own viewpoints to it and thus the meaning is continuously changing in the processes of conversation and gestures.

Now, if you approach that complex process with a set of fixed techniques, you are like a Neanderthal approaching Miyamoto Musashi with a club. Like said, if the client is intelligent and willing, the encounter might be productive, but it isn’t really the model that makes the client succeed. (He could have just bought a book as well and hire some summer-trainee to act as coach.)

In order to be really helpful, the coach has to engage in the dialogue as an equal partner, put his own expertise and creativity on the table and be vulnerable for a failure. The skills of the Wu Wei Coach are not in the outer form of the dialogue, it is the inner practice that makes him skillful. The coach has to listen what is been said by the client(s), what he is saying himself, and what kind of inner dialogue he is having. In other words, the coach must be able to take the perspective of the airman and the swimmer.

It is not so important for the Wu Wei Coach to “shine” in the dialogue with fancy ideas and interventions. His goal is to empower the client to become a master of his own situation and mind (which is a social process). Wu Wei Coach uses his own identity as an instrument, not as an object to be established as the solution. So, it is very important for the coach to know himself – to develop his inner practice which enables him to be very sensitive of what is happening.

If you don’t know yourself, you can’t lead yourself or anybody else. If you known yourself, you don’t need to.