My own experience has been a powerful source of learning about coaching. But, it has benefitted from a rigorous ‘research’ approach to really gain sense of it. I think more value could be made of this sort of approach.
The term ‘reflection’ is often used currently as a way to learn further from experience; however I think it is possible to go further with the sort of rigour that research can introduce to this process of reflection.
I will start with some perspectives, I have found, on the issues involved in learning about coaching. It is a complex subject.
I will also consider approaches to Research, which can vary widely; especially when researching the nature of human experience.
I also offer an example from my practice records of how I used a more research approach. I have chosen an example from one key aspect - my understanding of (coaching) readiness (as it is often termed, currently.) This also helped me see how Coaching outputs can be recognised more clearly at the immediate time of the coaching process.
1 The sort of challenges there are for learning in Coaching
The emergence of coaching has brought with it a desire to work out, and agree, exactly what it is. Research is often a means of finding this sort of agreement, especially when results can be reproduced independently, by others, for example.
Organisations have sprung up recently with an attempt to provide this ‘agreed picture’ of what is involved in Coaching. This has resulted in various approaches to credentialing, or accreditation, and then the additional processes of training that can follow – all conforming idealistically to various ‘defined models’. The origin and validity of these models can often seem still more invention than a researched process… by some of the appropriate standards of research, that is! These ‘models’ can be very open to widely differing interpretation, in practice.
What I have always found ironic is how coaching began because of the potential inefficiencies of much training, in many subjects, (the same message to a large audience – and thus lack of attention needed to different individual learning needs / or even based on specific knowledge relevant to the issues.) Coaching is now often besieged by the requirement for more of this Training! Yet training may not always be the most efficient form of learning.
2 How do people learn – the importance of experience
An example from ‘executive coaching’ can well illustrate some of the research into how people learn – as reported by the ‘learners’ themselves. This research, the 70/20/10 findings I share below, introduces some important appreciation of how experience was important to the way that Executives/Managers themselves reported they learned. After all, helping managers learn is the central focus of executive coaching.
Importantly, formal organisations can often provide access to important data on adult learning than the more open social systems we live within; and which can also be seen as a form of (social) organisation.
2.1 How we learn - the 70/20/10 rule
The 70/20/10 model introduces some key perspectives on research into how managers learn.
Morgan McCall and his colleagues working at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) are usually credited with originating the 70:20:10 ratio.
Based on a survey asking nearly 200 executives to self-report how they believed they learned, McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger's surmised that:
“Lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly:
- 70% from challenging assignments
- 20% from developmental relationships
- 10% from coursework and training
This is rather like saying – in Coaching I learn most from working with my clients!
It is very difficult to model real people in any research, or training model. (I have worked with some very good actors, however! But the real intimacy of the context is never quite there …)
This leads to the issue about the complex nature of the knowledge required to know what I am doing in any coaching.
2.2 The importance of Knowledge for informing Learning
Learning leads us towards inquiry into the nature of knowledge, and how it can inform Learning.
An example of this, which I find highlights a simple, and dramatic, perspective about just what is involved, has been best expressed as far back as 1853! Auguste Comte is largely accepted as having tried to bring these links about science and the study of more complex worlds such as our ‘social’ world together, such as introducing the idea of ‘sociology.’
Comte has a reputation of bringing these big questions into real focus for consideration back at that time. For example, his writings started another huge form of enquiry by bringing what is often referred to as ‘positivism’ as an approach that enables research to be important as a basis for real knowledge.
I also often use the term ‘generalisations’ as another term for the metaphysical / abstract. And this often explains the difficulties I find with so many of the frameworks and models around the coaching world.
Study of these generalisations (- such as even Comte’s ‘ generalisations! ) can indeed help to progress learning. But this may be a very personal matter – which frameworks appeal to each of us in making more sense of any data - may depend on just what any person’s particular experience consists of.
Comte’s generalisations helped me organise a lot of my experience and make sense of it. Whether it creates sense of itself is a different matter. The experience has to be there for the framework to bring sense and meaning.
For example, I get some form of learning when I come across ways that others have sometimes explained things, in a way that allows me to make sense of the data/perspectives my experience has been accumulating, but which haven’t been linked together before.
3 How can research form a basis for knowledge, and learning in Coaching?
Sometimes matters are still too complex for traditional methods of research, especially as a basis for valid knowledge of the best standard. Coaching is still in this zone. Events between even two people, in a private room, in coaching, can defy traditional approaches to research, and establishing what happened and why in a way that is reproducible by others.
One of the difficulties about the most rigorous forms of research is how it may be limited to what can be measured, in a way that will lead to numbers and statistics – the currently popular basis for real measurement in science. However there is a reality that can be important, but which can’t be measured, yet, by conventional research. Experience, then, may be the only approach to research that is really possible.
Research takes many forms, and many more forms are evolving to overcome those limitations. There is also the matter of quantitative and qualitative approaches to research, as it is currently seen, ( e.g. http://chronicle.umbmentoring.org/on-methods-whats-the-difference-between-qualitative-and-qualitative-approaches )
a) The assumption of cause and effect:
What is critical, is considering it is possible, to find out what is going on from the information that can be available. This then enables the testing, and learning, about what is the sequence of causes and events in any interaction.
Much debate continues about this as many events are still so complex that we lack any robust methodology to identify exactly what is happening. Interactions between two people, such as in Coaching, are an example of this complexity.
b) Experience as a form of ‘data’:
Experience is a source of information, or data, that can inform this complexity.
However, human experience can be subject to quite limited perception, as well as massive complexity. It is a challenge to recognise our possible internal biases that may be due to limitations in our perception.
Each person is a completely different set of variables, or underlying influences, that can come to bear on any interaction.
Then you add in the rituals and processes of ‘social behaviour’ – where the data you get from another person can be difficult to judge – we are all fantastic actors – it is what we have learned and been taught after all.
c) Using Behaviour as the data about events:
Typically we are also limited to behaviour as a form of data. This may also be a very inexact understanding of the detailed causes and events taking place.
However, my experience began to find there are predictable patterns for how behaviour, in coaching, can make an important difference.
d) The Coach’s Behaviour in a cause/effect sequence with the ‘Coachee’s’ behaviour:
The challenge is to know one’s own behaviour, as well as appreciate how it may be perceived rather than intended.
e) Even though difficult, I have found it useful to make a start with some basics of research 
- Keeping records on the experience process, data analysis, and variability encountered.
- Keeping records in a systematic way.
- Involving colleagues, and participants, where possible, in design and data analysis.
- Being upfront about my own assumptions underlying beliefs and values I may be introducing.
4 Researching ‘Readiness’ from my experience:
I have chosen readiness as an example as it is at the heart of the cause/effect question. Taking one of my definitions of Coaching as:
“ What can a coach do to create the conditions that enable a coachee to find more and more effective ways to explore their own learning. “
This sets out, in research language, my hypothesis of what I’m choosing to test, observe and adapt accordingly during these types of interactions.
And this is outlined as a pattern of the typical sequence of behaviours that I was finding:
The key issue is to learn what behaviours may have a pattern in creating more effective conditions.
I have adopted this more currently popular term – readiness – because of the way it is often used to portray the potential for appropriate conditions. However, in many current coaching publications Readiness is often defined as a condition independent of the Coach and what they do.
4.1 NOTES of patterns that emerged from my research that was impacting my coaching behaviours
MY Learning was taking me down a road that what the coach does can have a dramatic influence on readiness.
In particular, I was growing a view that readiness was something that could be influenced, but I was still trying to put together the ‘evidence’ among the patterns of cause and effect of what was involved.
I have selected some of the notes I have in my own learning journey, at a stage which was exploring this disconnect about appreciating how to ‘impact – stimulate – create’ readiness.
4.2 Learning from other peoples’ Research.
A summary of the OUTPUT framework to use in working with readiness 
HELPEE SELF-EXPLORATION IN INTERPERSONAL PROCESSES: A SCALE FOR MEASUREMENT
Level 1 no signs
The other person does not discuss personally relevant material. They avoid any indication of self-descriptions or self-exploration or direct expression of feelings that would lead them to reveal themselves in the dialogue
Level 2 little sign
The other person may respond with discussion to the introduction or personally relevant material in a mechanical manner and without the demonstration of feelings. They simply discusses the material without exploring the significance or the meaning of the material or attempting further exploration of their feeling in response to any effort to uncover related feelings or material.
Level 3 some sign
The other person starts to voluntarily introduces discussions of personally relevant material but still in a cautious and mechanical manner and without the demonstration of feeling. without spontaneity or emotional proximity and without any indication of willingness to inward probing to discover new feeling and experiences in relation to it.
Level 4 starting
The other person introduces personally relevant discussions with spontaneity and emotional proximity but without indication of establishing focus toward inward probing to discover new feeling and experiences. The voice quality and other characteristics are very much "with" the feelings and other personal materials that are being verbalized.
Level 5 spontaneous
The other person actively and spontaneously engages in sharing openly their own inward probing to discover new feelings and experiences, and their interpretations, about themselves and their world. In summary, the second person is fully and actively focusing upon and exploring themselves and their world.
I realised I was changing my behaviour – but was not sure why – or what was causing these changes at different parts along the whole cause effect chain involved.
More formal Research summarised extensively by Carkhuff, in particular, provided me with a missing framework. It provided a powerful understanding of how readiness goes through particular sequences in the other person.
This Framework, see Table, uses the term ‘Self Exploration’ as another term for ‘Readiness’.
Readiness, (or Self Exploration, as used here) is an essential basis for considering the output, or results, of any coaching rather than too much focus on Coaching inputs. It is important to know in every moment what is progress, or valuable outputs.
The Carkhuff framework summarises five stages of how readiness builds. And critically how it builds in response to Helper/Coach behaviour. The critical behaviours by the Coach are:
- Self disclosure
- Immediacy, and
The framework is especially important for identifying the significant impact of some of these forms of behaviour (Respect / Empathy / Genuineness / Self disclosure) during typical earlier stages of any coaching process. When, and only when, confidence is established, through these behaviours by the Coach, can the more action oriented Coach behaviours then become appropriate (Specificity / Immediacy and Confrontation).
This research is important as it helps to establish a ‘diagnostic’ framework for what Coach behaviour is most important at any time.
It is also important to recognise that ‘readiness’ to effectively work with another person only really starts at level 3. There is a great deal that can, and needs to, be done to get to this level – before progressing to straight forward ‘problem solving’ mode. And this can vary with each person; as well as vary within the same person from moment to moment.
Readiness can be strongly influenced by the behaviour of the Coach.
I have outlined, here, how I have found various ideas associated with the idea of Research to make more sense of my experience, and enhance my own learning about Coaching. In particular, the way of making sense of outputs, or important progress, in the Coaching, in the immediate moment – not just as a result of actions after the coaching.
This short commentary still opens up many further questions. But, for me, it has been an important basis for continuing to develop my Practice in Coaching
1. On generalisations! To the reader, here, the terms are obviously similar to ‘generalisations’ because there is a lack of definition for them to be easily reproduced exactly by others.
However the real value is the meaning they have for myself, which is extensive and detailed in my own awareness.
2. Intuition: I suspect we all do this more than we often ‘report’. It is like learning to ride a bicycle. A great deal is ‘intuitive’ – but it is there to be reported should we practice reporting more. This can then accelerate the learning.
3. Other Research: There is a great deal of other relevant research material that can be related to these ideas.
Research in all of the social sciences has grown massively in recent decades. However we still need to work on integrating these – for example the research of mainstream Psychology and how it does or doesn’t link with Psychotherapy/Counselling.
4. Terms that mean something in particular to each Coach: I often find Coaches build their own terminology that means something special for them as they build their understanding of events in Coaching. This is important. The emphasis on finding ‘one model’ that says it all for everyone may be a long time coming.
5. There is obviously much more to be explored behind the outlines in this piece. This blog is more an outline of an agenda, rather than as much as could be further researched behind the summary of ideas here.
Exploring further ways to fulfil Coaching’s potential is important for me. It is My experience of the wider field, as well as my Coaching Practice, continues to suggest where these opportunities are most important, as expressed here.
If you also consider there is more that can be done, then how about sharing some of your ‘research’, and outline of your own experience of Practice, in Coaching?
 Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger. p. iv. ISBN 0-9655712-1-1.
Auguste Comte, Cours de philosophie positive. (1/6) kindle; Harriet Martineau and condensed to form The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (1853)