Remember a time when things felt easy, when you were either at peace with yourself and the world, or you felt energized just following through with something, maybe being in a flow, where everything follows effortlessly? How much faster would we reach our goals in life with that kind of alignment? How much more would we achieve? And how much more joyful would that be?
Alignment is very important and therefore it is at the centre of Coaching. People benefit from coaching when they are stuck, look for clarity, or want to increase self-consciousness. But what coaches really do in the creative process of coaching is reminding people of their own resourcefulness, and guiding them into alignment. All our core coaching skills like effective communication, creating a trustful relationship, and finally developing action plans and creating accountability would lead into a void if we don’t get the client intrinsically motivated – and aligned.
The first thing to know about alignment is that it doesn’t matter what you as a coach think about how it works, but rather to understand that every person has an own concept of alignment, and it is your task to lead your coachee there. Alignment usually happens in 4 dimensions, and how it unfolds varies from person to person.
What all coaching schools and alignment concepts have in common is that they focus on the internal change within the coachee. No finger-pointing at others or society, no excuses, but sustainable and honest inner work will eventually lead to alignment. You need some humility and courage to go there as a client, and activating humility and courage in our coachees is the door in.
The most accepted dimension of alignment is mental or intellectual alignment.
When we discover why we react in a certain way, what mechanisms guide our actions, what our core values are, how we are triggered, something deeply makes sense. We usually have a logical model of ourselves. We use it to draw up action plans, creating new habits, making new strategies to get our needs met. Very often this does the trick already. Intellectual alignment is used a lot in the workplace and in executive coaching, and it is an entry gate for the work on the other dimensions of alignment, too.
Talking about empathy and deeper work, emotional alignment is another dimension.
Whatever the actual feeling a person might have in the process of alignment depends on the person him/herself, their inner make-up, and coaching goals. Some signs that point at emotional alignment can be: when something feels right, when we feel at peace or when we feel energized to do something. This is the reason why as coaches we constantly look for feelings and needs, and we mirror back to our coachees what we perceive. Non-violent communication is one methodology having its strength here. The basic mechanism here is that feelings point to needs. Pleasant feelings point to human needs that are met, unpleasant feelings point to human needs that are not met. We are looking for strategies to meet all human needs in a coachee. Everybody has felt this sense of alignment in some form in the past, therefore it is possible and we know we can bring them back again.
Some describe the skillfulness to perceive, describe and influence your own emotions as emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is like a muscle that becomes strong with practice. Coaching provides a safe space for us to practice and strengthen that muscle.
Another dimension of alignment is body alignment.
If you observe the body language and the changes in expressions, eye movements, voice tone and other ways the body expresses, you can guess what’s going on inside. You can guess cross-links with emotion and intellect. Since stuttering, looking away, sweating or smiling, is mostly done unconsciously by the body, and it is a reaction to the joys and problems shared in a coaching conversation, this is important for the coach to notice this valuable information.
You might point out “you say you are happy but you look sad”, and this might release tension, cause an emotional reaction and bring a coachee into alignment. “Yes, it’s been like this for a long time and I will change it” might be what comes out from the depth of your coachee. Also, bodywork is used in trauma therapy and psychosomatic work, and gestalt therapy. In simple applications, walking during coaching, getting up from a chair, swopping sides after an intense topic, or holding a part of the body might be effective when inner healing happens.
One dimension a lot of people find meaningful is the energetic level.
We sometimes say ‘there’s chemistry between two people’. How do you describe that chemistry? It is not important that you as a coach can connect to this idea, but if your coachee does so, you need to accept your coachee’s concept of alignment without reservation. You may talk about energy in a causal or in an esoteric way, you don’t get around perceiving what’s there beneath the logic, emotion, and body. If you are able to work with energy as a coach, that might make you become very effective, and you will have more spiritual ways to describe it, too. Spirituality is very important if you are looking for meaning or purpose in your life. That’s a big part of professional life, too. If your coachee does not feel comfortable in this dimension, skip it. If your coachee is longing for this, bring it in. Even in professional settings, where spirituality and energy are sometimes frowned upon, tuning into the energy in the room and tuning in with your coachee is an intuitive skill that you need as an effective coach.
Another type of alignment is between your inner world and the society around you. Any coaching or action plan that ignores the need to function within a context does not lead anyway either. There are companies, clients, colleagues, bosses, spouses, children, and other important people around you. This Alignment with the social context is different from inner alignment, though. Inner alignment comes first. Only when we are internally aligned, can we align ourselves with t social context which will make our strategies sustainable, powerful, and genuine. This is how action plans are born – the kind of action plans that you will follow through. This is how you become a leader who shapes his and her own destiny, and the destiny of society you want to influence.
About the Author:
Stefan Bannach is a Bali-based consultant, trainer, and coach with more than 15 years of experience working in Germany, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. He has extensive experience in moderating and facilitating multi-stakeholder processes in a participative way, as well as setting up training modules in the fields of communication, team development, conflict management, participatory planning, and moderation.
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