Theme | Non-Directive Coaching

Objective | Understanding the History of this Approach

Reading Time | 3 minutes

Cover image | TBC

Post citation | TBC

Thank you for joining us, Dr. Ravier. I know you are a busy guy.

Q. In the course of my executive coaching practice, I have heard the term non-directivity used in several ways and, perhaps, depending on the context of its application. How do you define ‘non directivity’ in the context of the coaching relationship?

Technically, non-directivity can be defined as the method by which the coaching participant’s personal knowledge (also known as “tacit knowledge”), is activated, developed or enhanced. This method implies, in summary, the deliberate abstention, by the coach, of transferring information, judgment, knowledge and / or experience, to his/her client (whether individual, team or organization).

Any deliberate intervention that alters the natural dynamic of  self-learning, self-management or self-regulation of the client implies a directive act or improper transfer in the coaching relationship.

Q. Why do you think a non-directive position is important for the success of coaching work?

First, because by definition (historical-evolutionary and theoretical), coaching seeks to help people to find their own answers or solutions. That is the fundamental essence of its existence.

Second, because as far as my research has indicated, there is no other methodology more suitable and effective in helping individuals and organization find their own answers and solutions than non-directivity.  The truth is that there are very few coaches who do not recognize the importance of clients finding their own answers and this means they must refrain from telling them what they should do.

The problem is that these same coaches have not fully understood the full scope of non-directivity, what this implies and why this position is imperative to the development of their clients.  Owing to this lack of understanding they act, frequently, in a way that it opposite to and incoherent with the real purpose and value of the activity of coaching. 

Q. What do you say to professionals who say that in order to advance the client, sometimes we have to direct their learning or provide solutions based on our own knowledge and experience?

I would say that when they adopt directive methods, they are acting against the principles and purpose of coaching. This is a pity, because coaching was born to offer its recipients value that is absent in traditional learning vehicles, e.g. classroom training, or the OJT that occurs in the workplace. When a coaching professional becomes directive, he is offering “more of the same” and, thereby, cancels or neutralizes the the value that is singular to coaching. The most important critiques of the field of coaching have arisen precisely because coaches themselves have failed to understand and integrate the non-directive imperative into their practice.

Response:  Well, Dr. Ravier, my initial interest in non-directivity in coaching was inspired by two concerns. 

First, I have often found that western-generated development solutions, including coaching, contained within them constructs and values that may not be readily understood in Asian cultures.  By this I mean that these interventions assume familiarity with social science or other concepts that may not exist.  Second, and perhaps more concerning, I have seen coach training programs, accreditation bodies and networks ‘tacitly’ advancing the use of techniques and practices that I believe to be psychotherapeutic in nature and/or for which little or no research has been accomplished in the coaching context.

So, the messages many coaches receive are :  “coaching is a non-directive practice and  “coaches must implement use of X, Y, or Z techniques.”  I would suggest that some of the confusion coaches experience is related to these mixed messages.  Do you have any thoughts on this?

LR:  I totally agree with your statement. The problem you raise can be resolved by understanding that “under” or “at the bottom” of every tool (whatever the tool is) there is a methodological and epistemological logic, which in addition requires specific competencies or skills.  It is this relationship between epistemology, methodology, skills and tools that is almost completely ignored in the field. This leads to malpractice, and hurts not only clients, but also the discipline.

Response:   Sadly, I am aware of such cases of malpractice in this region.  

Q. I know this is a broad topic, but could you briefly explain your understanding of how non-directive principles have influenced the practice of coaching, a brief history of NDC, so to speak?

LR:  When we analyze the historical emergence of coaching, one can clearly see that non-directivity precedes any other concept or way of defining the profession. In fact, coaching  itself represents an improved form of expression in the evolution of non-directivity.

And, I note that all the other conceptualizations of “coaching”, which have followed, have done nothing but to adulterate the essence of the field.

To be continued in Part II

Leonardo Ravier

Leonardo Ravier is a Doctor of Economics (Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) and is pursuing a doctorate in Psychology at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) He is the author of several books and most recently, Economic History of Entrepreneurship, Towards a firm’s praxeological theory, Non-directive Coaching; Methodology and practice and the second Spanish edition of Art and Science of Coaching, its history, philosophy and essence).  He is also a guest teacher at a dozen different universities and schools in Latin America and a coach and international speaker in countries such as Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, Argentina and Peru.

He is widely recognized as both a pioneer and promoter of non-directive or European-Humanist Coaching and has contributed to this discipline’s systematization, the development of a historical, theoretical and ethical framework.   To this framework of coaching he has incorporated the germinal ideas developed by Tim Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis, 1974) and John Whitmore (Coaching for Performance, 1992).  He is the founder of the International Non Directive Coaching Society. 

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