How to coach a client with a closed mind…

Most people have some strong opinions, but these don’t normally prevent them from having rational discourse. However, some people present to coaching with deeply closed mindsets, by virtue of, for example, extreme religious or political views, or adherence to irrational conspiracy theories. What makes them so difficult to coach is their inability to accept the possibility that any part of their beliefs could be even partially untrue. To them, everyone with a different perception is wrong, foolish or malevolent in intent.

It’s tempting to label such people as uncoachable, because they cannot engage fully with the coaching process. Or to try to change their views (which will only make them even more resistant to logic!)

A very different approach is to offer them curiosity. For example, in working with someone, whose fundamentalist religious beliefs make them censorious of others, the coach might seek to understand the core tenets of their beliefs. One of these is likely to be compassion. “So what it look like for you to be a role model for compassion here?”

Coaching in these circumstances cannot normally bring about radical change in a person. But it can start the process of helping them become more aligned with and functional within the world around them. If the coach can try to understand the world through the eyes of this client, he or she can better empathise with the emotions they feel — especially the sense of isolation that is only relieved by being with others, who hold the same convictions.

From here, it may be possible to excite their curiosity about how people with different views have come to their different perceptions. What experiences might have given rise to those beliefs? That in turn opens up the opportunity to review practical ways to have conversations that acknowledge different realities.

 © David Clutterbuck 2023


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