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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I disrupt, I confront, I provoke

That’s how I often introduce myself at networking events when people ask me what I do. I tell them “I disrupt, I confront, I provoke”. And then I pause … before I continue to talk about my twenty-two year old passion of employee, team, and leadership development. During the pause I look at people’s non-verbal responses. I’m sure you can picture the many different reactions to my introduction. Despite the variety of responses they are always pretty strong, ranging from laughter, surprise, shock, curiosity to nervousness.

This post is about provocative coaching and it is specifically for colleagues who coach and train, whether in private practice or in business settings. I will share which behaviors and techniques I use – and I use them because they work for my customers. Just one word of warning, a strong word of warning. Before you start using provocative techniques with people, make sure you really understand this approach, feel comfortable with the techniques, and that you have integrated it into your beliefs and your style. Provocative coaching used merely as a tool without grasping the meaning and the finesse of this approach will easily turn into plain rudeness and ineffective interventions. Needless to say this is completely undesirable.

Provocative Therapy and Provocative Coaching

Provocative therapy by American therapist Frank Farrelly forms the foundation for provocative coaching – no surprise there. The principles and techniques of provocative therapy can be applied to many areas including business, sport, coaching, and art. The Latin word "provocare" literally means to "call forth", or to elicit. Provocative therapy and provocative coaching are example of the NLP belief (NLP stands for Neurolinguistic Programming) that "the meaning of your communication is the response you elicit".
My fellow Dutchman Jaap Hollander, whose training Provocative Coaching I attended quite a few years ago, defined 39 Farrelly Factors as Jaap calls them. These 39 factors are very practical behaviors, strategic patterns and mental activities that the provocative therapist or coach does, feels, and thinks when working with a client.
The main goal of the provocative coach is to create environments and conditions that result in the client discovering solutions and insights into matters which were previously considered problematic. How I see it, the coach plays an active role as a brutally candid and direct coach who doesn’t shy away from confrontation, conflict, or provocation – better yet, he seeks them out wherever beneficial for the growth of the customer. On a different level, my goal with provocative coaching is always to increase resilience, courage, adaptability, and accountability.
In pure provocative therapy the therapist never suggests a solution to the client, regardless of how blindingly obvious one might appear to be! That is not how I operate, however I do use many of the 39 factors and I believe in seven of the central assumptions underlying provocative work:

1.    People change and grow in response to challenges.
2.    People can change if they choose to do so.

3.    People have greater ability to change than is often assumed by coaches, therapists and the like. 

4.    The psychological fragility of people is frequently overstated by both themselves and others.

5.    People’s unproductive behaviors can be drastically altered, no matter how seemingly severe.

6.    A person’s behavior with the coach is a relatively accurate reflection of their habitual behaviors.

7.    The key messages between people are non-verbal.

Certainly not every coaching situation, not every coachee, and not every issue requires provocative coaching or benefits from it. If they do, the behaviors and strategies used might vary. With some customers I use many of the techniques, with others just some. Below you find some of the Frank Farrelly Factors as described by Jaap Hollander that I regularly use with my customers, in order to benefit their growth, resilience, adaptability, courage, and accountability.

Emotional involvement – emotional responses
Go for the emotion. If the customer shows low emotional involvement, then vary your own behavior until you elicit a strong nonverbal reaction. Emotional involvement is paramount in provocative coaching. Simply try to get as strong an emotional reaction as you can (anything short of the customer getting up and leaving).

Describe the customer’s strong nonverbal reactions

If the customer shows strong nonverbal reactions, describe these nonverbal reactions to the customer and/or ask to specify feelings and thoughts.
"You blush, you throw you body backwards in the chair, what???"

Ask for specification

If the customer doesn't finish a sentence or gives a vague statement, then ask for specification.
"What???" "What are you saying? I can't hear you!"
"You say you have reasons for this behavior. Name three!"

Reflect and exaggerate incongruence

Reflect the person’s incongruence in your own behavior. For instance when the customer says he wants to exercise more, but he says it without any nonverbal expressions of being motivated, say in a tired tone of voice: "Yes, sigh, you are so motivated", exaggerating the tired non-verbals in your own body language.

Mimic the customer in a theatrical fashion.

Illustrate the impact of the customer’s behavior on others

React very strongly, in a theatrical fashion to the behaviors of the customer. For instance, when she has a very authoritarian, self-important air, act very insecure and impressed ('I don't hardly dare to say anything to someone of your stature').

Lamely protest claims of progress

Sadly suggest, with deep sighs, that "it's soooo difficult to change".
 Ineptly deny or regret ludicrously any progress the customer reports.
Use whatever kind of ridiculous reasons you can come up with to claim that the client will never change will never reach his/her goal, etcetera.
If the customer reports improvements don't believe it. It's just a temporary relapse into sanity. Soon the problems will return with renewed vigor. Humor is absolutely crucial here!

Do some more of that, think or feel some more of that!
Encourage problematic behaviors, thoughts and moods by describing absurd advantages (or absurd disadvantages of changing them) or overemphasizing the customer’s capability to cope.

Reverse the blame between customer and life

Teasingly blame the customer if the customer blames leadership, life, the system, or society. Bombastically blame life (if the customer blames him/her self). Change this around if the customer changes, always staying in the opposite position.
To a business coach who complains that he doesn't focus on the needs of his clients enough: pounding his fist on the arm of the chair "That's the trouble with business these days! If only the damned customers would stay away and wouldn't interfere, businesses could operate much more smoothly".

Act crazier than the customer

Take sides in an extreme manner
And don’t allow the customer to switch sides. Exaggerate the absurdities of only looking at things with one pair of glasses, from only one, always limited perspective.

With credits and many thanks to Frank Farrelly and Jaap Hollander.

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