How being an improviser has been making me a better provocative coach
When I came across the provocative method of supporting another person in change many years ago, I immediately knew it was something for me. I was very impressed with the power, creativity, naturalness and diversity of this method. The coaching session I experienced looked like a normal conversation, not a more or less rigid pattern in which we start with A, then we reach B to finish in C. And don't get me wrong - I don't mind more traditional forms of coaching, I also use them successfully in my work. The provocative style, however, was something refreshing, and it is much more coherent with me.
I knew I wanted to work this way. So, I started watching the masters – especially the father of the provocative method, Frank Farrelly – learning how to do it and then using this approach in my work with clients.
A few years later I met ”sister improvisation”.
Why sister? Because I think that the provocative method and stage improvisation are siblings who share the same DNA of attitudes, mindsets and techniques.
The foundation of both improv and provocative style is something that is best summarized by the term "here and now": being 100% present at the moment, acting without any plan, expectations and analysis, but with full attention to what is happening right now and to the client who sits next to me. It is extremely important on stage, when two people (and sometimes more than two) come out to its centre - without preparation and any scenario. Some of us start with an idea invented on the spot – a text spoken out loud, often also accompanied with a gesture, and the other person "plays this game" by agreeing on what it is (the specific situation, subject, hero and context of the scene) and developing the action forward.
In a provocative work it is similar - I am as a coach "here and now" up to the nines together with a client, giving him full attention and instinctively, intuitively responding guided by my sensing and emotions that this work awakens in me. I use humour, exaggeration, overplaying, absurdity and even irony. Always with a big load of kindness. I am constantly in vivid and good contact with a client, not planning anything or having (as a coach) any specific goal. In this way, I accompany other people on the way to THEIR solutions.
Improvisation and the techniques used in it extremely help in developing openness for the moment, flexibility in reacting, spontaneity and exercising awareness of the client's emotions, gestures and words.
Another key adage in improvisation is "yes and ..." or rather "yes and what results from it"?
Because good improvisation is a constant attempt to combine improvised lines and plots into one coherent whole, meshing the action like a zip fastener. We accept what is happening on stage at the moment, the characters and their relationships, and we try to develop the situation and go further TOGETHER. So, it's very important to follow your stage partner, try to sense him and to understand his intentions. And in order he could understand my intentions, when I want my gesture to be read correctly by the person I play with, I must communicate clearly and precisely – both verbally and non-verbally. An example of a gesture or activity? Here - there are fundamental differences between sweeping floor with a brush and using a hockey stick... and it should be clearly shown so that the partner understands what I am doing.
It is similar in provocative coaching work - as a coach, I wait for the client's "line" and fully accept what appears ("yes and..."). A moment later, based on what she/he just told me, with humour and kindness I provocatively set this person a series of challenges that are related to what she/he said (so, "yes, and what does it imply for you and your situation?"). The client reacts to this, the coach (me), in turn, responds to it and this is how this improvised, provocative dance continues, leading the person with whom we work to change their patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.
Improvisation skills enable us to follow the client in a much more natural, spontaneous and creative way. We have greater behavioral possibilities and bigger boldness in their use.
Finally, improvisation can perfectly "turn off" your head.
I think that in general we tend to over-analyse, prepare, think something over, choose options too much... especially as coaches working responsibly and professionally with clients. There is simply no time in improvisation for that! You have to act intuitively, rely on emotions, intuition and what comes to mind and body "at this very moment" when we are with partners on stage. If we really open ourselves to it and turn off the analysis, then usually improvised stage choices can be the most accurate.
The same happens in provocative coaching. As a coach, I answer carefully to what the client says and how he behaves. The more I allow myself in such a situation to react naturally in accordance with my emotions, the better my choices of coaching interventions are and the more useful they are for the client. This work is based on good contact with other people and on intuition. Of course, we are aware of a wide range of provocative tools and techniques that we can use, while the key to their use should be our emotions, sensitivity and spontaneous reactions that will make the session smoother and more fruitful for the client.
Improvisation is very effective in helping to develop such an attitude towards another human being and arouse the appropriate state of "non-thinking", which manifests itself in high intensity of mindfulness and openness to what comes to us.