Working with the overlapping layers of identity.
When we work alone, there is no need to consider or bend to accommodate the needs or opinions of someone else. It is possible to operate completely within our comfort zone; to exist in splendid isolation. That is not the case for most people. For those working in organisations, it means that there is a requirement to work with a wide variety of different people, which is where problems can arise. This is usually where a coach is brought in to help.
As a coach, there is a need to be able to explore the system the coachee is working in, as well as the systems within that individual. You may wonder what “the systems within” means. Irving Borwick (2006) describes it as “Change without change”. He goes on to explain, stating “Every time we change role, we also change behaviour. In the office we may be commanding and decisive, but as a spouse you may be uncertain and diffident.” To these circles of relationship and context, there are the overlapping spaces of identity which add another dimension of influence on both behaviour and context.
In an organisation each employee has a range of responsibilities that are associated with that position, usually described as their role; they are part of a team or department or system and that exists within a context; ie the overall aim of the organisation.
It could be suggested that people are made up in the same way; they have roles – sister, mother, daughter, wife. They are part of a wider groups; gender groups, ethnic groups, sexual preference groups, social class, physical ability or disability groups and too many others to list. However, these roles and groups are not fixed, but fluid and are socially contextualised, which can affect or complicate behaviour. As a coach, the ability to navigate the terrain of difference; to recognise and more importantly to be able to support a coachee who is struggling, is critical.
To do this successfully, it also requires that the coach has a level of self-awareness and self- knowledge. To know as Dwight Turner posits in his paper of the same title ‘We are all of us Other’ and that the selection or presentation of a coach may affect the way the coachee responds or feels able to share their challenges can be transformative of the relationship, the coaching experience and is central to the Tavistock Approach. In a world where the question of identity and the relationship to difference is changing, it is increasingly important to know how to explore these issues within oneself, as well as within others.
Coreene Archer, Co-Director of the Tavistock Institute’s Coaching for Leadership programme