Truly magical – Generative Coaching with Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan

Suddenly it is there. Like an arrow it bores into the forehead of the client. Stops him. His back bends into the hollow cross. Pain, frustration, anxiety. It hurts to see that. See how hard the woman is doing her way forward. Her way into a future that seems so much more enjoyable to her. Suddenly it is there. The „obstacle“. It has no form, no smell, can not be grasped. But it is undoubtedly there and has a firm grip on the client.

And then it is suddenly there. Like a bright sky that finally opens after a long thunderstorm. It stops to rain, sunrays warm body and soul. A new path becomes visible. Where before was only dark wall. These moments to experience, enable, share, is wonderful.

From May 2016 to January 2017 I did a training in „Generative Coaching“ with Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan. Here is my experience report.

bildschirmfoto-2017-01-17-um-14-13-17People come into coaching because they are unable to do anything else than fight, escape, freeze or collapse. Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan call this condition CRASH: contracted, reactive, analysis paralysis, separated, hurting/hating/hitting. And they make it clear: CRASH is normal. It happens to every one of us many hundreds of times in a day. And it is not the point to never experience it again.

The goal is a different one: to recognize at all, more and more often and faster each time that one has got into this state – and then choose the other state. The COACH: centered, open, aware, connected, holding. The inner alignment it takes to make new, creative solutions possible.

* * *

„Generative Coaching“ is a form of counseling that opens up a space for the client in which he has never been before. A space of possibilities. A space of so far unthought-of alternatives.

The quantum physicists are teaching us that reality arises through the way we look at it. bildschirmfoto-2017-01-17-um-14-09-57Only the direction of our focus makes reality real – until then, everything is pure potentiality. Everything could be. This alternative or another. Or both. Or neither. Reality as a tetralemma, so to speak.

People go to see a coach (or a consultant, a therapist, a trainer…), when they are at their wit’s end and set their hope on the greater experience of their professional conversation partner. This is helpful – and already has its limits within itself. For experience refers to the past. It provides empirical results, however it is immune to solutions that no one has yet experienced.

„Generative“ means: generating, producing, creating results that did not exist until then (C. Otto Scharmer also teaches this in his Theory U, for example, and Gerald Hüther promotes an education system that no longer cuts students off from their learning potentials…).

Every coach knows about this tight rope act: wanting to offer the client his or her own experience, wise impulses and valuable hints – running the risk that precisely these hints could narrow the client’s perspective on the direction in which he himself bildschirmfoto-2017-01-17-um-14-11-39would/should/could really go. The coach also directs his focus on the endless sea of potentiality and, by doing so, chooses a certain wave to which he directs his client.

Generative coaching is therefore about enabling the client to free himself from his current constriction. To expand from the small ripple into the wide, open sea. To discover a wave, an island, a ship there, which are much better suited to realize his intention than his previous attempts.

In the months of my training, in the many moments of practicing and experimenting, it was always amazing and touching when a client was visibly and noticeably in touch with a possibility he had not even dared to imagine. And they were never visible from the outside – despite all experience and expertise.

* * *

Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan postulate that in the creative awareness of the client everything is already there. We are all in constant contact with the pure potentiality, with the quantum field (more on the topic of „field“ can also be found here). We never lose this contact – but we often forget to take care of it. Or as Insa Sparrer and Matthias Varga of Kibéd say, „it might be that we are connected to one another and it is not a matter of not disturbing this connection but of supporting it by creating good conditions for it to be undisturbed. “

bildschirmfoto-2017-01-17-um-14-15-13In generative coaching, the coach encourages the client to (re-)connect with himself. To make good contact with himself. To be aware of himself. This has nothing to do with esoteric nonsense! Before an orchestra can create the magical sound of an overture, all participants have to tune their instruments. Otherwise, no harmony and magic can emerge. As long as each player only focuses on technically mastering his violin, piano or trombone, it will be of no use.

Likewise, at the beginning of every generative coaching session all participants attune to each other. They go into a COACH state, as Dilts and Gilligan call it. Over and over again. Every time.

COACH is fragile. The smallest disturbance can send you back into CRASH. Perseverance and practice become our constant companions in this training. And Dilts and Gilligan leave no doubt about it: Daily practice is a minimum requirement for every coach who wants to work this way. Only those who are prepared to go into silence every day, find their center, empty themselves out, expand, get in touch with themselves – can also help others walk this path.

Generative coaching is more of an attitude than a technique. „The creative work begins when technology fails“, we are told. While I learned many sophisticated methods from Robert and Stephen, this is what I most love about them and what has touched me in my core: the attitude with which they coach you.

I met Robert Dilts for the first time in autumn 2015 at a workshop in Tübingen, Germany. I stepped forward for a coaching demo. And although we had not met before, and although we were at home in two different languages, I felt deeply seen. I saw his eyes looking at me, full of love, interest and alertness. This demo was one of the most touching coaching sessions I have experienced as a client. – At this point, it is important for me to emphasize that Dilts and Gilligan do not have any guru attitude. They do not manipulate, are unpretentious, and never make you feel inferior to them. That’s what I mean by attitude.

* * *

Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan have given their generative coaching process a clear form of six consecutive steps. As I mentioned, the first step is to go into the COACH state. This can be done in many ways, one of which being the way the client himself naturally does it.

Then the client names his intention. The direction that he wants to pursue in this coaching session. His goal. For this to be as clear and powerful as possible, the coach encourages the client to use only five words or less and to complement them with an inner bildschirmfoto-2017-01-17-um-14-10-52image and an external gesture. This triangle – words, visualization, somatic expression – will accompany all further steps. For me, one of the most impressive experiences of this training was to see the doors a client can open by adding physical expression to his linguistic work in the coaching process.

In the third step, the generative state that started in the first step is further deepened. The centering is increased, resources are added, the target deepened. Now the client is prepared to move into action.

The fourth step is the space of methods. This is about how the client approaches his intention. For this, we learned an abundance of helpful techniques, and it is a pleasure to draw from the wealth of experience of these two guys from California. Stephen as a master of trance and Robert as a veteran of NLP – each of them and both together are an experience. (You see, I am thrilled…) The central tool here is the Timeline, which we use and explore in many different ways. Also always present: Robert’s Logical Levels (environment, behavior, capabilities, beliefs, identity, purpose).

As soon as the client moves into action – and often much earlier – they emerge: the obstacles, the demons. Anxiety breaks through, frustration and reluctance, and of course all five inner stressors („Be strong!“, „Be perfect!“, „Please everybody!“, „Hurry up!“, „Make an effort!“). We all know them well enough… We got to know many creative possibilities to help our clients deal with their resistance. As in all other steps of the coaching process, we learned to use phrases and mantras that sometimes sound bizarre to the outsider – and yet create a surprising force and confidence on the inside of the process.

When the client has overcome the obstacles, the sixth and last step follows. Now the client makes his commitment to practice behaviors that will help him transport his new experiences into his everyday life and anchor them there. Homework, mediation, training, feedback, mentoring, and more options are available – and our teachers are clear about it: A client who is not willing to undergo daily practice after coaching does not even need to show up, because: „Knowing something does not mean you can do it. It is not enough to know how to brush your teeth – you also have to brush them. New behavior must be practiced.“

Six steps, intelligent and wise. Which can always be modified. But: „First you learn the rules, and then you break them“, my NLP teacher once taught me…

* * *

Generative coaching is about creativity rather than efficiency. Often we do not know the goal yet, and maybe no one has ever been there… There is so much that does not exist yet. It’s all about the question: How do we create it? How do we find that?

Here we have access to more and different resources (field) than before. We can channel resources. Ideas do not come from me but to me. We are a holon and part of holons. We are part of the whole and represent the whole already in ourselves.

bildschirmfoto-2017-01-17-um-14-09-09We try not to avoid obstacles but welcome them and transform them.

Presence helps us to heal our history, transform our demons, create our future. Presence is our greatest resource. From COACH, I can go anywhere.

In generative coaching there are neither good nor bad feelings. They are what they are. Instead, it is about our relationship with them. In the generative state, we can hold opposites (Inner Game): self-confidence without arrogance, relaxed and ready, focused and spacious. Only the CRASH state makes feelings a problem. And even CRASH itself is not a problem but part of our daily life.

The question is how I can connect with a vision that is bigger than myself. To my deepest passion, which is my most powerful motivation. To my own life’s mission, the role that I want to play in this life and my ambitions. It is about soul and ego. We have both. We are both.

The decisive factor is how we adjust the filters with which we look at the world. Am I suffering pain or do I get feedback from my body? Is this the way I am, or have I behaved in a specific way so far? Do I construct identities and attributions that constrict me and fix my current limitations? Or do I bring myself back to creative flow?

The world is presenting itself to us right now as a mad whirlpool of dissociation, exclusion, restriction, reaction, paralysis, hurt, hatred and fear. But what we experience at the political and social level is also raging inside of us. In each of us. This is the good news: no one can prevent us from re-opening ourselves to love. To find our center, to cultivate our own openness, to live mindfully, to connect with above and to grow roots downwards. To hold life in all its ambivalence. To live happily, time and again.

* * *

PS. Generative encouragement: It is possible, you deserve it, you are capable, you are worth it. For yourself, in your personal relationships, in your professional life. Be fierce, tender and playful. Expand when others contract, include when others exclude. Ask yourself what has such a profound emotional meaning for you that you really want to create it. And then take action to get what you really need. For your sake – and for the sake of everybody.


To the German original of the article

To the author’s website (Harald Berenfänger)

A BIG thank you goes out to Annette Held for her assistance with the English translation. Annette works as coach in Monheim, Germany, and we got to know at the training „Generative Coaching“ in Cologne.

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