Being generative in a supporting relationship

There is a skill and art to setting up and maintaining the conditions for a generative partnership between a coach and client, and the ways that is done will be very individual. However, I propose that there are some principles at work that will be helpful to anyone finding themselves in a coaching role, including team leaders looking for more productive ways of supporting and coaching their teams.

For this article I will focus on projections and judgments, though there are two further topics I want to explore on being generative in the following articles coming soon:

  • Asking a question
  • Caring for the tone and an exercise

Projections and judgments

When we listen to another person speaking there is a constant stream of responses and reactions going on in us, about which we may largely be unconscious. There are in particular two things that may be present, which can hinder our being helpful to the person we wish to support:

1. Projection: the unconscious transfer of one’s own desires or emotions onto another person. What the other person is trying to express to us may trigger our own deep seated feelings of fear, jealousy, anger, or any other repressed feelings that relate to our mental models (underlying beliefs) about how to world works. How will we know this is happening? Only by making a practice of self-reflecting: what is the feeling that is arising in me right now? Why do I feel that? Becoming conscious of what is arising in you as projections is greatly helped if you have built into your life a practice of journaling or some other way of regularly self-reflecting. Projecting onto another is one of those reactions that we will remain unaware of unless we are willing to commit to building self knowledge and self awareness, which are capacities – like learning to play an instrument – that need to be practiced regularly for best results.

2. Judgment: an opinion or conclusion drawn, or a criticism or condemnation made by someone from a position of assumed moral superiority. Judgments are kind of also like projections, in that they usually have been made out of unconscious mental models (underlying beliefs) and out of emotional reaction. Of course, there are the well-considered kinds of judgments, made by a person who is both well-informed and strives for integrity in the judgment, but I am not talking about that kind of judgment. Here I mean when the judgment is arbitrary, is not well informed, and arises out of a mistaken belief in its truth. A judgment of this nature is made too soon, and feels negative and unkind to the recipient, and says much more about the person delivering the judgment than anything else.

There is a place for well-considered judgments in a helping relationship, as long as you are aware of them as they arise. The first rule of thumb is to be awake, and build the capacity to be awake through regular self-reflection and self-awareness practices: journaling and meditation are two powerful ways to build these capacities into your life.

Your judgments, assessments, and assumptions come through with the tone of your questions and statements. When another perceives that you have judged them, they are forced to be on the defensive. They must battle now with the shadow-side of your judgment – your projection. Judgments nearly always tell a great deal more about the one who makes them than they do about the one who is being judged. This is because our shadow is coming into play with the judgment, coming forth to reveal our wound of unresolved or repressed feelings, thus resulting in projection.

Waking up to our judgments and projections enables us to be much more present to another, and to hear more fully the real intention behind their words. Released from the blinders of judgments and projections, we are free to place ourselves in the shoes of the other, a deed that lays a foundation for healthy relationships of every kind.


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